Relaunching in-person intervention meetings: a delicate but necessary act of juggling
While meetings like TCT take a step back to face-to-face formats, the online versions will remain. Let us proceed with caution.
At the top of the list of ideas I brought to work when I became CEO of the Cardiovascular Research Foundation was the digitization of our medical meetings. The reasons, I thought, were obvious.
In recent years, attendance at medical meetings had leveled off and was limited to a select group of doctors, while inequality of access to medical training continued to increase. Something different had to be done. Providing online access to all of our meetings seemed like the most convenient way to educate more people in a more cost effective manner. So we got down to business and, over the next 12 months, formed a dedicated team to develop a digital strategy capable of meeting the needs and challenges of today’s environment.
Fast forward to March 2020. The pandemic forced unprecedented changes, and the need to switch to a fully digital environment was sudden and necessary. Despite the challenges of setting up a full academic program in a fully digital format, the transition provided a unique opportunity to test our first fully virtual event prototype while the entire world was on lockdown.
The results have been striking. Online participation in TVT, TCT and Technical director exploded, including a dramatic increase in the number of physicians from generally under-represented countries. In addition, the ability to watch sessions “on demand” provided busy clinicians with unique opportunities to attend in different time zones.
But while digital meetings have proven to be essential throughout the pandemic, there are aspects of face-to-face meetings that we all look forward to returning to. Some of the most important things that happen in face-to-face meetings happen beyond the podium and are essential in moving our field forward. Established faculty help mentor young physicians and train the next generation of leaders. New clinical data are presented that challenge the status quo and serve as the basis for the development of new clinical trials and innovations in the field. Spontaneous discussions of new ideas, approaches and face-to-face innovations are essential and should involve not only clinical voices, but also representatives from the fields of engineering, finance and industry. Unfortunately, this symbiotic ecosystem, which is opaque for many, is difficult to measure and almost impossible to replicate in a virtual format.
As the COVID-19 months dragged on, I became increasingly concerned about the lasting effects of the pandemic on research, innovation, and physician training. The the training of fellows was greatly affected, many of whom struggle to perform enough procedures to become proficient. Registration at large clinical studies was severely affected and the analysis of critical clinical data was significantly delayed. Innovation has also been significantly compromised by delays in protocol approvals, patient recruitment and limited funding. The impact is still unknown, but I predict that many key projects are already years behind schedule, and new ones will likely take several years to get into the clinical field.
In August 2021, we made a final decision: TCT 2021 would be an in-person meeting, albeit smaller than usual, with simulcasting for those who couldn’t, for whatever reason, attend in person. I have received calls from faculty members and very influential organizations about the wisdom of the decision to continue with an in-person component, especially as the Delta Wave swept through Florida and the number of cases has grown. increase.
The news in September that the American Heart Association decided to go completely virtual made our position even harder. Internally, we faced various challenges. Running a hybrid TCT event in our current environment is not only operationally more complex but also more expensive.
But we had made our decision, our domain is already are suffering the devastating effects of the pandemic and we have only two options: stop and withdraw or adapt and move forward. We chose the latter because we believe that postponing critical research and education for another year will set us back even further. Plus, we believe we have all the necessary elements in place to run a successful meeting. A mandatory vaccination meeting with limited attendance will greatly reduce the risk of infection among participants, faculty and staff. We also have tools to test and track who participates.
We ended up creating what we believe to be the meeting of the future: an open concept meeting that will stream all content live, allowing both academic information dissemination as well as on-site peer and colleague interaction. We anticipate that this TCT will have the largest attendance in the history of our organization with the use of this hybrid approach.
If the last 18 months have taught us anything, it’s that online learning has its pros and cons.
For one, oneWe have all experienced the deleterious effects of prolonged academic isolation and digital exposure and crave a return to real interactions. We also found that almost anyone with the capacity to host a college event was able to do so with minimal infrastructure, compared to all the moving parts of an in-person conference. This rapid proliferation of online meetings has the potential to impact the quality and integrity of medical education.
There is no doubt that industry involvement in the support and delivery of medical meetings is essential. Our field is technology dependent, and our collective success depends on maintaining a transparent relationship with technology developers and industry sponsors. Transparency is essential. Business bias is hard to control, even in large face-to-face meetings. In more structured events, industry influence is constantly monitored and managed by independent CME committees. But in smaller, unregulated academic events there is a greater potential to introduce bias and to place business interests above academic merit and this lack of transparency is only magnified in a context of line.
In my opinion, when meetings are held fully or partially online, they should be subject to the same standards as large in-person events. Conference programming must be relevant and balanced. Industry sponsored sessions and satellites should be clearly distinguished from core program content. Conflicts of interest between presenters, commentators and chairs should be clearly stated.
I strongly believe in the future of digital education, but we still need to pressure test its real potential, challenges and dangers under more stable and predictable conditions than the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed. While online education has the potential to exponentially extend educational reach to the wider medical community across the globe, in-person education engenders a greater degree of creativity, collaboration and innovation. .
Online and in-person education, instead of competing with each other, can complement each other. And we need both. My point is that we need to both move forward and do it now.
Excluding script is a first-person blog written by leading voices in cardiology. It does not reflect the editorial position of TCTMD. Granada is the CEO of the Cardiovascular Research Foundation, which publishes the TCTMD, and a course director for the TCT 2021.