What happens to medical outcomes when doctors go away for their annual conference?

Andrew Leigh, Elena Varganova and I have a new paper out today: “Minding the Shop: The Case of Obstetrics Conferences” (click here) which considers the interesting question.

And the answer for obstetricians at least is that there are fewer babies born. The magnitudes are reasonably large, with birth rates falling between 2% and 4% in the US and Australia, respectively.

So you would think that this might influence when the conference is actually held. After all, births follow a persistent seasonal pattern. In the US, the optimal conference is off by a few weeks (that is, if you ignore the Christmas period which is low for tax reasons). In Australia, the current conference is in spring; the time when the birth rate is highest! Perhaps as much planning needs to be done by obstetricians into their conference timing as goes into managing the ‘load’ around that week away.

Here is Andrew’s take with graphs.

Meanwhile, though correlation is not causation of course, here is what was up on RANZCOG’s website (the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) a few weeks ago:



Perth, Western Australia

2-5 October


Gold Coast, Queensland

7-10 September


Adelaide, South Australia



Auckland, New Zealand

Checking back yesterday (click here), the 2008 Conference is no longer scheduled and the 2009 Conference is now scheduled for March/April. This seems to be a far potentially less disruptive time; although May would be better. And yes (just in case you were wondering), we had forwarded RANZCOG a copy of our paper some weeks ago.

Joshua Gans is Professor of economics at the Melbourne Business School, University of Melbourne and blogs at economics.com.au.