Lessons Learned vs Still Unaddressed from Virtual Scientific Conferences Two Years Post COVID
Speaker: Tim Mikhelashvili, PharmD
Speaker: Riaz Abbas
Congresses have traditionally been an important opportunity for Medical Affairs to present data while connecting with scientific leaders. But when the world went virtual during the pandemic, there were certainly some things we lost. So, what are the opportunities we gained?
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Garth Sundem 00:00
Welcome to this episode of the Medical Affairs Professional Society podcast series elevate. I’m your host Garth Sundem, Communications Director at MAPS. And today we’re talking about virtual scientific congresses. Joining us today are Tim Mikhelashvili, CEO and co founder of Amedea Pharma, and Riaz Abbas, Learning and Performance lead JAPAC Medical Amgen. Views expressed are those of the presenters and do not reflect endorsement by the organization’s. So congresses have traditionally been an important opportunity for Medical Affairs to present data while connecting with scientific leaders. And when we went virtual during the pandemic, there were certainly some challenges and maybe some things we lost. But are there also some opportunities that we gained?
Tim Mikhelashvili 00:54
Yes, Garth, you know, I definitely am a proponent of virtual conferences and planned appropriately. And, and also just as a format of a productivity education and engagement, because I think that those, those are the reasons why we attend conferences. And by really changing the format to the virtual conference, we are able to actually amplify our messages, we are able to increase our ultimate number of attendees over time, and also, you know, recreate these conversations over a longer period of time in this asynchronous learning and teaching type of style. And when we think about virtual conferences, they’re really a series of virtual meetings packed together in a short period of time. So similarly to our previous podcasts, for example, or speaking to Riaz, with whom we work together and the external educational working group here MAPS, we’ve never met each other in person, but we’ve worked a lot, you know, virtually. And I feel like I know Riaz. I feel like I know you, Garth. And so I think, are the key really to unlocking those opportunities, how is recreating the conversations those in person conversations only in a, in a virtual digital setting. And, you know, creating more opportunities for on demand materials that are readily available for download, easier access to data analytics that are that are reported, also very quickly, in a timely way, live streaming types of events and sessions, and also hands on virtual opportunities that have now demonstrated that they translate into real world benefit for many physicians and healthcare professionals. So, yeah, so I think we can distribute our share of voice and participation even more evenly. Also, for those people who are not likely to speak up in an in person meetings, now they have an opportunity to have their voices heard. And, you know, I certainly reached out and was able to network with more people outside of my territory in New York than I would have otherwise, thanks to the virtual.
Garth Sundem 03:30
Alright, you don’t have to be in the same place. You don’t have to be necessarily even in the same time with asynchronous, we can have a larger attendance. Riaz, is that the end of the story?
Riaz Abbas 03:43
I’m afraid not. I Oh. But whilst we’re not completely with Tim, I agree, in essence that we can definitely virtual definitely have a role to play. And I’d be honest, I think there are I’m not sure if other therapy has been HIV, for sure. Even prior to COVID. Croix, an annual Congress that happens usually in the US, which is basically considered one of the most important scientific meetings and has a large cap on attendance, you have to you don’t just register, you have to apply for registration, and the committee has to approve your registration. So you have to be active in publishing, researching, and it becomes more of a challenge for people coming from the industry. So in the past, I’ve actually attended Croix in a virtual setting whilst they’ve been happening live, this is pretty COVID. And I actually found the learning part really useful. Where I really struggled was the networking part, to get context behind the data to you know, and we all know that text without context is pretext. And I’m a strong believer in that. So whilst I agree wholeheartedly with Tim about virtual offense or opportunity, I just think that we need to be more smart. Really clear. gain, I have this opportunity to look at the data from the last two years, because I also believe we are not going to go back to completely impersonal meetings only, I think we’ll go we’ll proceed and have virtual, you know, aspect to Congress’s education, etc. But I think that virtual is just has a huge opportunity, but also have a lot of challenge. And we all know, the concept of zoom fatigue, screen fatigue. So I just think that we need a more of a revolutionary mindset, rather than just plug and play a Congress. So that’s where I would say, gotten Tim, that there are certain limitations that we have to be aware of.
Garth Sundem 05:38
Is it a, is it a balance? Is that a teeter totter of region resonance? You know, we hear about these things all the time. So virtual congresses, they have reached a lot of people can go, but is it at the expense of of resonance? Tim, what do you think about that?
Tim Mikhelashvili 05:55
It can be, you know, it probably can be because of the many of the reasons that Garth, that Riaz just mentioned. Right? The resonance in turn, or the context of is it really those thought leaders that are tuning in? How long are they tuning in? For the virtual conference? Can they really fit that into their schedule? Right, you know, packing in these meetings, these virtual meetings, back to back in the same way, as you would in person conference is no longer practical for those reasons that I think we as mentioned, you know, that, you know, our attention span or the focus that we have, it gets easily gets lost, you know, when you’re asked to be in front of your screen, back to back. So, I think planning, planning ahead, you know, is the key, I think, key factor of success in a virtual conference, where I, you know, I really critically looked at, you know, a lot of the virtual conference that I attended, I attended both as a presenter, also on the sponsor side, as well and worked closely with the organizers as well over the last two years. And I saw a much greater variability of success of have access to sessions of moderation. You know, we I think one of the big gaps in the virtual format is that a lot of the organizers sometimes think of it as a broadcast, rather than a conversation. So if you’re able to differentiate a, you know, a virtual conference, by having more conversations, more opportunities to appeal to personal interests to functional or work related or conference related interests, as well. And if you can, if you’re able to separate those over time, more asynchronously, I think you stand a chance of greater engagement in that, in that case, live versus pre recorded, you know, on demand, you know, I’ve seen data from Ashfield health, that was distributed across various different specialties, oncologists. And they, you know, and all globally as well from all over the world, and they seemed like that personal touch was missing. Right. And I think one of the reasons is, is for for that, you know, that broadcasts and a lot of the pre recorded, you know, presentations that you you know, you’re you’re able to see at these virtual conferences where the presenters data is, you know, is heard by everyone, and then they’re there for the q&a. Granted, you have many ways to interact, you know, your notes, you can take snapshots of data, but it’s just not the same quality of engagement or conversation, it still becomes a, a broadcast someone. Posters as well, you know, I presented a poster, for example, and one of the virtual conferences, but that poster was very difficult to access for people. And I did you know, I was very deliberate about promoting it beforehand. But I never received the metrics also until like, months down the road as well. Right. If for me, the exhibitor standpoint, if you’d look at the sponsors perspective, right, we you know, you have exhibitor booths, and you’re able to have these avatars and you know there’s various different very creative virtual conference platforms, but they allow you to actually visualize yourself sitting with others at a table, you know, and, you know, I was able to interact with more people than I would otherwise However, you know, it’s not just it’s not just those conversations, but it’s really being able to, you know, to have to find an actor to, to have access to those conversations in order to have an on demand meeting immediately with whoever you want, and then find that attendee list are the posters. Right, not just as a PDF, but the visualization. Also, the visualization was variable, I found, I found that a lot of the scientific conferences, it was difficult to see the posters actually or the presentations themselves, you had to like really squint your eyes and really focus as well. So I think the scheduling that broadcast versus conversation, I think, is a big key. And, you know, I think we should really aim for more live interactions, which becomes difficult maybe in time zones, right? If you have a speaker in Australia, or in California, you have an early morning meeting, you’re gonna have to do encore meetings, why not experiment with just having the presentation, and then them being available for just q&a?
Garth Sundem 11:07
Yeah, so I was gonna say, I’m taking away a lot of things that I think MAPS can do with their webinars as well. This goes beyond just Congress’s, you know, it’s presenting information virtually. And that, of course, is what Congress is, do and provide the opportunity for interaction, you know, Medical Affairs professionals, the reality is that we’re going to have to be engaging in virtual congresses. And you know, there is a lot of, I don’t want to say danger, but challenges or things that can go wrong. You talk about this in terms of variability. Tim, we’ve seen good stuff. And we’ve seen bad stuff. So Riaz what can we do to get the good stuff?
Riaz Abbas 11:47
Yeah, that’s a that’s a million dollar question. Right? So I would refer all our listeners to this really nice publication in February this year from heather gray, and her colleagues. And I know it’s an Australian perspective, but I don’t think it’s, it’s gonna be much different to small large congresses virtually, and publishing MDPI. An article really around it as to what’s been in the last few years scientific congresses in oncology, particularly, there’s a huge, not just interest, but that’s where groundbreaking data really informs and changes, treatment paradigms in clinical practice. And they pretty much highlight some of the challenges we’ve been discussing. Just now. Congress’s have been a platform not just to share latest information, but also for colleagues and experts to interact and have that interactivity. And basically, what they found, overall, is a well defined over time between 2020 and 2021. And increasing participation, and particularly a far diverse participation because they could compare data from prior congresses, which were in person in person meetings, what they really found is that when they dig deep and looked at feedback onto the feedback from participants, what they found is that most participants who were actually completely new and they couldn’t attend live meetings for various reason, logistics, costs, etc. The experience was actually quite positive. However, those which were out 80% participant that done both in person and virtual, they basically said there was a huge value loss because of, you know, an inability to be able to informally interact with peers, with experts with colleagues. So I think we we can maximize as we look, and I don’t have the answer, I’m afraid. But I think what that’s what they propose that they really should look at and evaluate, based on information we’ve gathered over the last two years, what has been good, what can be improved, what can lead to, you know, removing that operator, reducing that efficiency gain, and addressing those issues and challenges? You know, we got to try and see how we can actually actually do that.
Garth Sundem 14:00
You know, you walk through the posters at ASCO, and you can tell who has something interesting because the little corridor is packed. And there’s a whole bunch of people standing there trying to interact with the N O P i actually is usually not at the they usually put the grad students out there, right. But are the postdocs out there to chat about the posters but is that what we’re missing? Is is the opportunity to stand around a poster and chat with the researchers. We get the poster? We can get that virtually. Tim, is it this personal informal interaction? Oh, Riaz is raising his hand. So you want to say something? Go, Riaz.
Riaz Abbas 14:37
Yeah, I do. Because one of the things that we find is not maybe in the beginning, but later on, I completely agree. It’s just, that’s how humans work. You go to a restaurant, you look outside and from outside, there’s normal day, it may be something the best food out there. But if there’s no one there, nobody walks in and guess what? The moment you walk in, and suddenly sitting by the window, you see more people coming in. That’s our tendency. So I would actually say Say, God, that what we realized, is social listening is really helping us, in fact, so having your posters and then the altars sharing or the Congress sharing using their own twitter handle or other social media platforms, is actually generating a lot of interest. I would actually say the sheer volume of questions, comments coming in now, compared to in person, I think, the volume I don’t, you know, I would say the volume is huge. There’s a lot more coming in, there was a lot more interactivity happening. So definitely, we’re getting better there. I don’t think that’s the only challenge. I think the challenge is more about, yes, you might get it that one of your comments based on your questions. But you don’t really get people’s opinions in small group setting. That’s what I’ve been hearing from experts that I know, here, both here and in the UK. Interesting. So Tim, yeah. Oh, yeah, go ahead.
Tim Mikhelashvili 15:54
Yeah, those those personal individualized kinds of conversations and interactions need to be prioritized more probably in a virtual setting, then then the educational ones, right, where you’re just, you know, dumping some data on a lot of attendees who may, you know, listen to them. And so, you know, there were conferences where you had one particular networking type of session, right, personal networking on, or a theme theme around, let’s say, beer tasting, okay, that beer tasting may not be relevant to everyone, right. And I saw some great virtual conference where, you know, physicians were up. And talking until the wee hours of the night, I saw other ones that had many different types of classes on fitness on wellness, on, you know, offered many choices for people to interact on a personal level. And some of some of the gaps what you both mentioned, regarding the posters, that was a gap, I thought, you know, in terms of early career, early career, attend attendees who are trying to really network with their mentors, who are wanting to, you know, consider different research opportunities or career development opportunities, that was missing in in many of the virtual conferences, but it’s not what we’re, you know, the capabilities are there beyond avatars alone, for us to make those conversations more continuous. It’s just how we plan those, those days, maybe we don’t have to cram everything into three days, maybe you can be invoicing or synchronous one week or 10 days, but the shorter days, but it gives people time to also not only attend, but also moderate as well, where in sessions where you have a moderator, and they don’t have to be an expert, subject expert, I so much more interaction, for example, personally, you know, and you know, so someone like you, Garth, right or, right, who keeps our conversations going on the Elevate podcast, that’s, that was a big game, game changer, I thought in terms of the interaction level.
Garth Sundem 17:56
Yeah, it’s funny when you had when people were paying for hotels, you had to have long days. But now that maybe they’re not, you can have much shorter days and eat these in bite size chunks. But it’s also interesting that there remains such a human component of of research and data dissemination. You know, why can’t you just dump the data on people? And there you go. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s interesting to me that, that you still need this interactive human component. I, I’m taking this into the weeds here. But you know, is that really, if we were going to put a finger on what still needs to be done? What still needs to be solved with virtual congresses? Is it? Is it the human component? We asked? What do you think? Riaz, I can’t hear you? Well, we Riaz, just just start your answer. Go ahead.
Riaz Abbas 18:54
So if you look at the data, or how adults learn adult learning principles, the three key ways we can overcome the forgetting curve or retain information. Number one is really testing our own self knowledge, we can do that asynchronously. But the other one is peer to peer learning, which is huge. So I think I completely agree, I don’t think Congress is a purely just as a data dissemination platform. I think they’re much bigger than that. Because if they’re just data dissemination, you could do that to your point, just do a data dump, conduct a webcast, publish your data. I think Congress is a more of a platform where they initiate and then disseminate information by peer to peer learning and enabling that I think that’s what’s missing. I’m not saying we can’t do that virtually, I just think it’s a little bit trickier. And we have to learn from what’s worked in the last few years and then continue on that learning and making it better from a peer to peer learning perspective in a virtual setting.
Garth Sundem 19:51
Tim, can we do it? Can we have peer to peer virtually?
Tim Mikhelashvili 19:55
I think so. I’ve lived through it. You know, I’ve seen community He’s being developed. And I think we can take some examples from the med tech from the tech community, where they were more successful than the farmer or the scientific community, if you will, in terms of creating branded featured communities, because I think we can take better advantage, more advantage of, of the virtual digital format. And just extending those conversations and starting them earlier in may be months before the meeting. And then But then continue them on afterwards. And also, you know, the cost is something we didn’t talk about, but that was some somewhat of a limiting factor as well, in some of the research that I’ve seen, right, you know, how do you what’s the most appropriate cost in order to ensure three things really right to access, access for everyone, right, to the information to the exhibitor booths, which weren’t, which I think a lot of sponsor felt like they lost a lot of money into the event that investment, but I think you need to plan ahead in order to accordingly as a sponsor, as an attendee, as well, and to treat that conference as an opportunity to actually speak to the prospects, not just get a data, new data informed information, but also take, you know, that dedicated time and visit what that new information is from, let’s say, at AstraZeneca, or, you know, CSL bearing the format, right? And is the other one, right? We have more diverse formats of information. And really the quality makes sure to, to have, if you, you know, make sure to offer those metrics, that closer and more and different different types of metrics on not just attendees, but big changes in behavior, because you have that ability, because, you know, you have all that and I don’t think the organizers did that. As well as as well, as we’ve seen, let’s say in any person meeting where you have a booth and you have those scanners, you’re able to follow up with those who attend, attend. I don’t think that was replicated as well, you know, as consistently. So here’s what you can format access quality.
Riaz Abbas 22:05
Yeah, I would say one of the ways to address God is even in person, what I’ve, what I’ve, for example, learned is major Congress, they’ll go to, we would conduct like a debrief with experts or peers in a small group setting like a fishbowl meeting or a roundtable and say, Okay, what on the last day of the meeting, and then we’ll take those learnings with us, we enabled that peer to peer learning this small setting, I think we can probably definitely do that. And be the catalysts from an industry perspective to help us do that. So to Tim’s point, rather than having a big flashy boots, we should be really investing and putting our money into those kinds of things where, yes, you had, for example, ESCO, virtually, let’s have a round table with some peers. And then you can do that in different settings. So you could do on a national level, then you go on a regional level in a virtual setting. So you’re enabling, disseminating the latest information based on the audience in a very nice, simple way.
Garth Sundem 23:00
All right. Well, I know the next conversation I want to have and that is about hybrid conferences. And is that a way to have our cake and eat it too? Or is that just a further stratification for the haves and have nots who can attend in person or anyway, that’s the next one. So thank you, Tim and Riaz for joining us. MAVs members, I hope you will subscribe to the Elevate podcast and we will talk to you next time. Thank you.