JACR: Providing food at meetings gobbles up money, doesnt increase attendance

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Thanksgiving is fast approaching, which for many means a day spent visiting family, watching football and eating food. But can tasty treats lure medical center staff to departmental meetings? It appears that you can leave the food at home. A study published in the November issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology demonstrated that faculty attendance at monthly meetings in academic radiology was not significantly affected by offering complementary food.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., retrospectively studied attendance at monthly faculty meetings within the department of radiology for one year with food provisions provided and for another year after those provisions were cancelled as part of a cost-containment effort. With the exception of two early morning meetings at which breakfast was served, all meetings were held over the lunch hour. Seven different meeting groups were tracked, including four monthly neuroradiology division meetings and three department-wide meetings.

Results showed that in 2008, the year food was still being served, average annual attendance rates at the seven different meetings ranged from 31 percent to 72 percent. In 2009, after the food policy was changed, the average annual attendance rates for the meetings ranged from 33 percent to 68 percent.

“Our results demonstrated that faculty attendance at monthly meetings in academic radiology was not affected by the presence or absence of complementary food provisions,” wrote Robert J. McDonald, MD, PhD, of the College of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and colleagues. “These findings applied to both general and divisional meetings as well as working meetings focused on specific departmental tasks.”

While the cancellation of food provisions might be bad news to those faculty members who were diligent in attendance with or without the promise of food, the results were good news for the Mayo Clinic’s bottom line as the cancelling of catering and food services saved $92,205 without affecting meeting attendance.

“As such, it is likely that committee productivity would not be influenced by the added expense of providing either meals or snacks at regular meetings,” wrote the authors.

The researchers noted that previous research at the Mayo Clinic showed complementary food enhanced attendance among medical trainees at larger education conferences, but attributed the difference in results to the fact that educational conferences are considered to be an ancillary component to education whereas the departmental meetings feature more investment from attendees. The bonus of food could bring higher attendance to the education conferences, but meetings would likely be attended by the more engaged participants regardless, according to McDonald et al.