Popularity of virtual conferences may mean a permanent shift


Advantages of an online meeting

Despite the challenges, online meetings can overcome obstacles of in-person meetings, particularly for those in low- and middle-income countries, such as travel and registration costs, the hardships of being away from practice, and visa restrictions.

“You really have the potential to broaden your reach,” Ms. Sibley said, noting that people in 157 countries participated in ACC.20.

Another advantage is keeping the experience available to people after the livestreamed event.

“Virtual events have demonstrated the potential for a more democratic conference world, expanding the dissemination of information to a much wider community of stakeholders,” ESMO’s spokesperson said.

Not traveling can actually mean getting more out of the conference, said Atisha Patel Manhas, MD, a hematologist/oncologist in Dallas, who attended ASCO. “I have really enjoyed the access aspect – on the virtual platform there is so much more content available to you, and travel time doesn’t cut into conference time,” she said, though she also missed the interaction with colleagues.

Others found that virtual conferences provided more engagement than in-person conferences. Marwah Abdalla, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of medicine and director of education for the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Columbia University Medical Center, New York, felt that moderated Q&A sessions offered more interaction among participants. She attended and spoke on a panel during virtual SLEEP 2020, a joint meeting of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the Sleep Research Society (SRS).

“Usually during in-person sessions, only a few questions are possible, and participants rarely have an opportunity to discuss the presentations within the session due to time limits,” Dr. Abdalla said. “Because the conference presentations can also be viewed asynchronously, participants have been able to comment on lectures and continue the discussion offline, either via social media or via email.” She acknowledged drawbacks of the virtual experience, such as an inability to socialize in person and participate in activities but appreciated the new opportunities to network and learn from international colleagues who would not have been able to attend in person.

Ritu Thamman, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, pointed out that many institutions have cut their travel budgets, and physicians would be unable to attend in-person conferences for financial or other reasons. She especially appreciated that the European Society of Cardiology had no registration fee for ESC 2020 and made their content free for all of September, which led to more than 100,000 participants.

“That meant anyone anywhere could learn,” she said. “It makes it much more diverse and more egalitarian. That feels like a good step in the right direction for all of us.”

Dr. Modarressi, who found ESC “exhilarating,” similarly noted the benefit of such an equitably accessible conference. “Decreasing barriers and improving access to top-line results and up-to-date information has always been a challenge to the global health community,” he said, noting that the map of attendance for the virtual meeting was “astonishing.”

Given these benefits, organizers said they expect a future of hybrid conferences: physical meetings for those able to attend in person and virtual ones for those who cannot.

“We also expect that the hybrid congress will cater to the needs of people on-site by allowing them additional access to more scientific content than by physical attendance alone,” Dr. Rautenstrauch said.

Everyone has been in reactive mode this year, Ms. Sibley said, but the future looks bright as they seek ways to overcome challenges such as socio-emotional needs and virtual expo spaces.

“We’ve been thrust into the virtual world much faster than we expected, but we’re finding it’s opening more opportunities than we had live,” Ms. Sibley said. “This has catapulted us, for better or worse, into a new way to deliver education and other types of information.

“I think, if we’re smart, we’ll continue to think of ways this can augment our live environment and not replace it.”

A version of this article originally appeared on Medscape.com.


Next Article: