As much as things change…

I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was thinking that diabetes conferences in the time of COVID would be different to pre-COVID times. But really, apart from some people wearing masks, less kissing the cheeks of strangers and sharing vaccination status (‘How many times have you been boosted?’), there wasn’t all that much the differed from the last face-to-face conference back in February 2020.   

I realised that on day 2 as I walked through the barely light streets of Barcelona from my hotel to the conference centre that the idea and demands of ‘conferencing hard’ hadn’t changed. The 6.30am breakfast was still alive and well, scheduled so that there was time for another morning session before the actual sessions started. It makes for a very long morning which is what I said walking out of my fourth meeting for the day and seeing it was still only 10.30am. 

Also the same is the way conference session timetablers still manage to clump all the sessions I want to go to in the same time block! I barely made it to any sessions anyway, (project and collaboration meetings made it difficult), but when I did have a spare half hour there were always several concurrent sessions I wanted to be in. 

And in the same way, there is a magical equation applied to room allocation that results in the most popular sessions being given the smallest rooms, so that people are crowded in and then overflowing – something that has always been a problem but seems even more of an issue in COVID times. 

The Exhibition Hall remained a playroom for HCPs with ever brighter and flashier booths all vying for attention. In what is starting to resemble a Las Vegas casino room, blinking lights, interactive boards, and promising giveaways keep attendees away from sessions and focused on shiny work of overpaid marketing and PR firms. They earn their coin – There were queues outside the Exhibition Hall each morning, and the booths were jam packed throughout each day.

I had one of the most confusing and weird experiences ever in this Exhibition Hall at the Abbott stand. I’d been given a heads up that they were giving away dummy Libre 3 sensors on the stand, so I wandered over to see what the buzz was all about. All around the massive booth that had prime position right at the entrance of the hall were giant interactive screens. Attendees were invited to work their way through a six-question survey to test their knowledge on Freestyle Libre 3. 

After I got my score, I walked up to one of the Abbott staff and we had this encounter:

Me: ‘Hi, I’ve just done the survey and I was wondering if I could get a dummy sensor, please.’  

Abbott staff: ‘I’m sorry?’

Me: ‘Oh, um… a demo sensor?’

Abbott staff: ‘We don’t give away demonstration sensors. Health professionals can register to have one sent to them.’ (She was eyeing the N/P label on my badge.)

Me: ‘Okay, well we can talk about that another time, but for now, what is the sensor that is being offered to people finishing the survey thing? A dummy sensor?’

Abbott staff: ‘Oh no. we don’t have dummy sensors. We have … (pause for effect) … glamour sensors.’ She wandered off to get me one while I stood there stunned at what I had just heard. 

Look, I know I spend a lot of time working in the space of diabetes and language, but this one had be absolutely floored. Glamour sensor? I turned to my friend Andrea who had watched this entire encounter and we both mouthed in astonishment ‘Glamour sensor?’

The Abbott rep returned and handed me a box that looked suspiciously like it contained an engagement ring, which I thought was lovely if not a little forward considering we’d only said half a dozen sentences to each other.

I thanked her and opened it and there inside was this:

I sighed. There was my glamour sensor. A fun little token of love from the device company that makes a bloody good product…that is unaffordable to the vast majority of people with diabetes who could benefit from it. I get the excitement though. It is very sexy. It’s tiny and obviously I desperately want it to come to Australia NOW so that we can have access to it. Thank you and please. But is the fanfare and theatre around it at a diabetes conference all that necessary?

Which brings me to another thing that is exactly the same. As I get swept up in the excitement of new technology much like anyone else, I have another focus. And that focus is horribly annoying for whichever rep asks if they can help me when the see me lurking with intent at their booth.  ‘Nice kit,’ I say to lull them into a false sense of security, letting them think I am just like any other admiring punter wandering around. And then: ‘When is it coming to Australia?’ The answers are always the same – no matter who I am speaking to and no matter which company they are from. It’s a variation on ‘No idea; maybe I do know, but I can’t tell you; you’re a long way away; there aren’t many of you; stop asking me.’

Also slightly gimmicky, but absolutely for the right reasons, was the demo Omnipod give away at the Insulet stand. Here, anyone could simply head up to the stand and ask for one, and Insulet would make a €5 donation to Spare a Rose for Ukraine. I can’t really complain about this seeming like a stunt when it’s going to a cause very, very close to my heart…!!

One of my favourite things that was a throwback from pre-COVID conferences was seeing groups of people with diabetes – many there as part of #dedoc° voices – wandering around together in packs, comparing notes, and supporting each other. That is something that certainly hasn’t changed, other than for those packs to be more recognisable and more welcome. Definitely a good thing! And something that I hope to see a lot more of in coming meetings.  

DISCLOSURE

My flights and accommodation have been covered by #dedoc°, where I have been an advisor for a number of years, and am now working with them as Head of Advocacy. 

Thanks to ATTD for providing me with a press pass to attend the conference.

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