Live, Virtual, or Hybrid – What Is the Future for Medical Meetings?
The pandemic has changed so many aspects of our lives. One of the most dramatic changes for medical societies, like the College, was the move to a virtual annual meeting this year and possibly for 2021. As you know, the College’s virtual meeting took place last month. The leadership, staff, and the Annual Program Committee headed by David Stukus, MD, FACAAI, did a masterful job in pulling it off. There is always a phenomenal amount of work to put on a live meeting each year, but after doing it for 50 years, most of the bugs have been worked out.
With only a few months to hire a virtual vendor and completely change most aspects to a virtual program, such as pre-recorded lectures and getting all the major activities like the Literature Review and the FIT Bowl into a three-day meeting, this was a monumental accomplishment.
The good news is that all the hard work paid off. More than 3,200 physicians, nurses/allied staff and other medical professionals registered for the meeting. Just to give you an idea, typically a live College annual meeting is attended by about 1,800 medical professionals. In fact, if you look at other virtual medical meetings in 2020, like the European Academy of Allergy, and Clinical Immunology (EAACI), American Thoracic Society (ATS), and CHEST, all broke records with much higher attendance than at any live meeting.
The feedback that we have been getting from the meeting is phenomenal. Here are a few quotes from some of the participants:
- “I must say, I love this format. The talks are easy to access and follow and I can watch in the comfort of my home.”
- “The ACAAI meeting platform is fairly impressive! Off to a great start! THANK YOU to the planning committee!”
- “Free meeting, terrific platform, and high-quality education as usual. Rough year for us all but ACAAI really delivered. Big thanks to all involved. Your hard work is appreciated!”
Why was it so successful and well attended? The College leadership made the decision to make it free for members as a member benefit during this difficult year for the practicing allergist. If it had not been free, what effect would that have had on numbers? Another reason is the need for CME by the end of 2020, as many state and regional meetings were canceled. Of course, we are not traveling and there are definitely fewer activities going on during the weekend. Even my Georgia Bulldogs football game was postponed due to COVID, so that freed up more time to stay connected to the College meeting.
All of this leads to the question: What about the future of medical meetings once the population (hopefully) gets vaccinated and we can return to a more normal life? Will you want to return to live annual meetings, or is it better to watch in the comfort of your home? There are many activities that we can do at a live meeting that can’t occur virtually. Many committee meetings and social activities are not possible during a virtual meeting. Interaction with our colleagues is not the same virtually as it is live. But if the meeting stays virtual, more people will be able to attend, as there are no travel, hotel, or food expenses incurred with a live meeting. I know I can’t wait to go back to my first live medical meeting, but after that, do I really want just solely live meetings, or is it more economical for most to be virtual?
That leads to the option of hybrid meetings. How would they work? At a hybrid meeting, a subset of the people attending the meeting gather and attend together in the same place. Other participants join the live streamed meeting by web conference. The EAACI has announced that in 2021, it is holding a hybrid meeting. Originally it was scheduled in June as an in-person meeting. Now it is being labeled as Madrid Digital/Krakow Hybrid taking place in July. The in-person part will be in Krakow, which I believe to be a smaller venue than in Madrid. It will be very interesting to see how this works and if it is the future of medical meetings. Does a hybrid meeting make financial sense, as the costs of holding this type of meeting would be much higher for the medical society than either a stand-alone live or a virtual meeting? For several years the College has live streamed some of the plenary sessions via the internet during its live meeting, and about 100 attendees participated each year.
What is your ideal scenario: Go back to just live meetings, prefer virtual meetings like the one last month, or be able to choose each year with the College moving to a modified hybrid format? Let me know your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org as your voice is important to the College.