David Scheller-Kreinsen: Why Gastein works – despite session sponsorship.

At the recent European Health Forum Gastein, a group of “young Gasteiners” blogged live from the talks. A selection of the blogs are on the BMJ blogsite. Tessa Richards, assistant editor, BMJ, also attended the conference. You can read her blog and introduction to the “young Gasteiners” here.

David Scheller-KreinsenBeing a researcher you are, by the very nature of your socialisation within academia somewhat skeptical about commercial sponsorship of sessions within policy or research conferences. When coming to Gastein this year for the first time in the framework of the Young Gastein Forum, this view was at first much confirmed. Simply looking at the program, which really was a loose compilation of very distinct topics, makes you wonder how did the organisers end up with this set of issues if not for pleasing benevolent (session) sponsors? Given the former I went to my first session with rather limited expectations.

This session dealt with “best practices in efficient care of multiple sclerosis.” Various stakeholders presented their views on MS – a very courageous and self-confident patient giving account of her individual MS experience, EU policy makers, an MS group, European patient organisations, a researcher, a physician, and various specialist nurses. Overall, the session was carefully set up to make a strong case for an increasing role of specialist MS nurses. The “European Multiple Sclerosis Platform,” which organised the session, spoke about “closing the gap” that exists with regard to training, the role, influence and the resources that specialist MS nurses have at their disposal in different member states. I thought it was a clear case of a biased and a rather one-sided workshop in favor of a particular professional group.

However, the course of the discussion taught me something different. After making their initial statements along the lines expected, a lively debate emerged among stakeholders in MS care, which was as pluralist as one would have dreamed of. The specialist nurses argued for more resources for themselves. The physician, who was meant to outline the state of the art in MS treatment, defended the role (and priority) of neurologists in the care process. The patient groups argued in favor patient self-management supported by patient organisations, the researcher (on the podium) wanted more data and money to conduct studies, and finally the MS societies explained why they are the only ones being able to organise a “holistic” process. This was far away from the formal friendliness and consensus orientation of purely scientific conferences.

Overall, to my surprise, in the end the combination of stakeholders provided a very honest and balanced account of the struggles in MS care.  Hence, dear Gasteiners: please continue to organise sessions based on sponsorship as long as you get at least five different stakeholders on the podium.

David Scheller-Kreinsen works as a research fellow at the Department for Health Care Management at the TU Berlin. He currently conducts research on hospital reimbursement systems, hospital costs and quality in different European countries in the framework of the EuroDRG project.

You can read more blogs from the Young Gasteiners on the BMJ blogsite. The rest can be read on www.ehfg.org