Are they worth the paper they’re printed on?

Penciner, R.  Handouts at Emergency Medicine Conferences:  Are they worth the paper they are printed on. Presented at Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians Scientific Assembly, Vancouver, BC., June 2012.

As a presenter and teacher, handouts have always been a frustration of mine. Students and other learners are fixated on whether there is a handout.  Organizers are fixated on whether we get our handouts in on time for distribution.  Most of the time handouts are simply reproduction of Power Point slides for which PowerPoint was never designed.  It was my hypothesis that handouts at contiuning education events though often required and expected, are rarely referred to a later point.  I undertook this study at Emergency Medicine Update Europe Conference in 2011 in Italy where I had a captive audience for 5 consecutive days.


Handouts at continuing education and professional development events (such as conferences) are often an expectation of event organizers and participants. The utility of handouts at these events is unknown. The purpose of this study was to determine participants’ preferences for handouts and their perceived and real use of the handouts post event.  


Emergency Medicine Update Europe was a continuing education conference in Monteriggioni, Italy, September 2011. The conference consisted of nineteen 45 minute presentations over 5 days by leading North American Faculty. All faculty provided handouts prior consisting of a maximum of 4 pages.  A printed and electronic syllabus was provided at the beginning of the conference. Prior to the first session, registrants were invited to complete an anonymous paper 6 item questionnaire. Six months following the conference, participants that completed the first survey were contacted by email to complete an online 2 item questionnaire.


58 Emergency Physicians attended the conference (most from Canada)

35 participants completed the first survey (RR=60%)            

27 participants completed the 2nd survey 6 months later     (RR=77%)