Neurosurgeon Michael Oh was watching his daughter deftly use her iPod Touch when he had an epiphany.
"I figured if she can learn it so intuitively, that neurosurgeons would be able to figure it out," Oh said.
He'll find out when 3,500 neurosurgeons meet in Philadelphia in May for what Oh believes might be the nation's first paperless medical convention.
When attendees register at the American Assn. of Neurological Surgeons meeting, the doctors will be given Apple Inc. iPod Touches already loaded with just about everything they'll need, including the convention program (165 pages last year), summaries of research to be presented and information from exhibitors.
Additionally, the doctors will be able to use the iPods for messaging and for interacting with presenters during meetings.
(The convention also attracts 3,500 exhibitors and guests who will not be given the devices.)
The iPods will not only encourage community building, said Oh, who helped organize the meeting, but will also save a lot of paper. The programs alone would have used more than half a million pages, he said, most of which would have been left behind in hotel rooms.
"I think we will transform and really revolutionize how medical and scientific meetings are conducted," said Oh, who works at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh and already has an impressive tech track record. He helped develop a brain-surgery simulator that was a hit at previous meetings.
After watching his daughter, Oh discovered he was not the first to see the iPod's potential. The Canadian Film and Television Production Assn. went paperless at its meeting last year and plans to do it again next month.
The surgeons association bought the iPod Touches and added $100 to the registration fee to partly fund them. (At retail, iPod Touches start at $199, but the organization will be saving on paper costs.)
Apple will have people from its local stores at the convention to answer questions, and members of the young neurosurgeons committee will also help.
Oh, who is 41, said that's young for neurosurgeons, who typically train into their mid-30s.
Convention experts say the trend toward greener behavior at meetings is taking hold, but the neurosurgeons are going further than most.
"The march is on," said Brad Lewis, spokesman for the Professional Convention Management Assn.
Pat Schaumann, president of Meeting IQ in St. Louis, said that devices offered many advantages but that there were some potential problems. They are expensive, and many conventions attract people from four generations, not all of whom are tech savvy. The small screens can also be difficult for people with vision problems.
Joanne Hulme, owner of Tents Party Rentals & Planners in Pottstown, Pa., said the recession had slowed some customers' ability to go green. And not every group is ready to do everything electronically.
"No paper's great, as long as 100% of your people are ready to go," she said. "Not everybody has BlackBerrys. Not everybody brings laptops with them."
Burling writes for the Philadelphia Inquirer.