Austerity grips RSNA, but it remains greatest show on earth

2011 11 30 14 55 12 328 Chicago Skyline 70

CHICAGO - Long gone are the days when Bracco used to fly in the Blues Brothers for a one-off gig at the House of Blues, when Philips put on an amazing cultural and culinary display over two nights at the Art Institute of Chicago, and when Carestream laid on a lavish buffet and live entertainment at the Field Museum. The big vendors now prefer targeted hospitality for key clients during the RSNA meeting, which got under way today.

This approach may not be quite as much fun for the global army of radiologists who've made the annual pilgrimage to the Windy City, but it's perfectly understandable in the current climate of financial austerity, when any corporate expense is scrutinized by financial managers and industry regulators.

Everybody's welcome -- that was the organizers' message to thousands of overseas attendees when they arrived today at McCormick Place in Chicago.Everybody's welcome -- that was the organizers' message to thousands of overseas attendees when they arrived today at McCormick Place in Chicago.
Everybody's welcome -- that was the organizers' message to thousands of overseas attendees when they arrived today at McCormick Place in Chicago.

On arrival at the O'Hare International Airport, it's evident that everybody's budgets are tighter this year. More RSNA delegates shared cabs or took shuttle buses yesterday afternoon, which underlined how harsh economic times can have an unexpected positive impact and bring people together.

Also, I definitely saw more overseas radiologists than usual heading from Terminal 5 to the CTA station at Terminal 3 to take the Blue Line subway to downtown hotels. This journey isn't for the weary or faint-hearted. You must cross a parking lot and walk down a few flights of stairs if the elevator is out of order, as it invariably is. Buying a $2.25 ticket from the vending machine requires patience and persistence, not least because rail staff never help and just enjoy watching hapless foreigners juggling with their unfamiliar coins. The reward, though, is a journey on a safe and clean train that provides a perfect opportunity for people watching, banishing all thoughts of jet lag.

Many things at RSNA remain refreshing familiar, however. This is a supremely well-organized meeting in a stunning venue that never ceases to amaze and turn the eye. Even buses run to time, as do the scientific sessions. The big research groups still gear up for RSNA and present their best work here. You have to feel sorry, though, for speakers who must whizz through their findings and answer questions in a 10-minute slot in front of an audience that invariably switches off easily and is shockingly intolerant of any overseas accents or technical glitches. But the reality is that a huge volume of original scientific research will be unveiled this week, and this is still by far the best place to check out equipment before making an expensive purchase.

The Chicago weather in late November also remains crazy and unpredictable. Last night's heavy rain showers caught out many people, and meant it was impossible to get a cab, of course. This is surely one of the few places where it can be glorious sunshine and more than 20° C on one day, then bitterly cold and below zero the next day. There was talk in the '90s about switching the congress to Florida and changing the dates so that it didn't cut short Americans' Thanksgiving holiday. Such a move would make total sense, but the radiology community doesn't like change, and the city of Chicago makes too much money from this jamboree to see it drift away.

Our editorial team has arrived safely and is ready for action, and we relish the prospect of bringing you daily news from the congress. At least there will be fewer social distractions this year, and, after all, this does remain medical imaging's greatest show on earth. Make sure you don't miss our coverage and you check back for regular updates on both AuntMinnieEurope.com and AuntMinnie.com. May the fun begin!

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