Death of the EMS Conference

This last year has been hard on EMS Conferences everywhere. At my home State Conference they barely had 200 people show up, which likely included the exhibitors. Keep in mind normal attendance for many years was 750 or more.

EMS World Expo got hurt by its second major storm when Sandy hit the Mid-Atlantic. Many attendees from the Northeast couldn’t get flights out. Worse, at the last minute the show’s manager was changed.

They never opened the refreshment stands and didn’t have any food or drink in the exhibit hall. No exhibitors lounge either.

A friend of mine was charged an unbelievable $1,000 to move one pallet from the back door to his booth (30 yards). When many vendors did not show up they closed off all the empty booths with curtains.

Anyone exhibiting in the back of the hall like me, suddenly became virtually invisible.  As a final parting gift they shut off the lights early before the end of the last exhibit period.

It was just one thing after another. In short, it was real tough on vendors. Few got much ROI and even fewer seemed enthusiastic about coming back next year. It seemed like the show management took a bad situation and then worked diligently to make it worse.

These high costs also affect innovation. Many of the best ideas in EMS technology come from small entrepreneurs. A trade show where they can spend up to 10 grand is getting way out of their budgets.

To work around this many small companies have found clever ways to cope. Smaller manufacturers often work in the booth of their top distributors. Others limit themselves to one “national conference” and focus on smaller venues. Some even try to build business walking and working the floor on a hall pass, which can be a little rude.

AMTC in Seattle was an exception and a great show. The only weird thing was they were charging $350.00 for an exhibit hall only pass. That made it nearly impossible for local EMT’s and Paramedics to tour the latest aeromedical product displays.

It seemed a strange policy. Several of the leading aeromedical services were there. I wonder if they knew that all their ground support crews could not afford to get in.

Everyone in the EMS product industry is worried. Costs keep climbing for these highly over-rated marketing opportunities. But most manufacturers and dealers really do want to support the EMS street providers. They know their booth fees help make the educational sessions possible.

They love getting to talk with their customers. They just don’t see the numbers making much sense anymore. Others are worried if they don’t come they will be “conspicuous in their absence”. These industry folks will probably find a way to keep coming back.

Online education has also had an impact on lowering attendance. Many Medics can now get most of their required CEU’s on the internet, and the rest cheap close to home. This challenges conferences to become relevant in new ways.

I do have a few ideas. One is to realize that the primary driver for attendance is gone. EMT’s and Medics are no longer there strictly for CEU’s. They are there to learn from and network with their peers.

Most importantly, they are just getting too expensive for the EMS providers. You can easily pay $600-$900 or more; by the time you pay the conference fee, travel expenses, and room costs. That’s a lot of money for a working Medic to pull out of pocket.

Companies that I talk to are getting reluctant to sign up for many EMS Conferences. Most have dramatically cut back. Hopefully 2013 will bring us some better show management and a better economy.

For many EMS Providers and Suppliers, EMS Conferences are just starting to cost too much for too little.


About Dan White

I'm a retired Paramedic and EMS Instructor with 35 years EMS and emergency medical product experience. I love canoes, cars and EMS. I have written a lot about EMS Technology on the Paramedic Blog, the Insights on Innovation column for, on and I can be reached directly at 573-240-0002.
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2 Responses to Death of the EMS Conference

  1. Roger Lee says:

    Hey Dan,
    Your hammer hit the nail on the head. The vendors are what fuel the economics supporting these conferences. For those of us developing and marketing ems innovations since the mid 70’s; the educational conference was almost the only way to help evaluate and validate a new idea or product. As you stated, imagine the cost associated with a small company trying to display a new concept / product at current EMS conferences. I know..I stopped going. There is know ROI. The conference promoters have finally made it so expensive for vendors to participate, EMS conferences, as we know it, will fade away into obscurity. What next….

  2. The National Association of State EMS Officials (NASEMSO) hosts a pretty comprehensive calendar of regional EMS conferences and symposiums at EMS World also maintains a good schedule of upcoming events available at

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