Published time:12 June 2020
Authors: Vivek Kalia, Ashok Srinivasan, Luke Wilkins, Gary D. Luker
Keywords: radiology, Covid-19, vendors, healthcare.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced cancellation of hundreds of scientific conferences worldwide, including dozens in the field of radiology. Other conferences have converted to exclusively virtual formats because of risks of travel and interpersonal interactions of usual in-person conferences. Changes in format already extend to events planned through December of 2020 (and beyond), underscoring that recovery will not be fast. The impact of COVID-19 on scientific conferences is only the tip-of-the-iceberg in a world that would have been unrecognizable only a few months ago. Hospitals, universities, and governments still are trying to find a path forward to overcome massive financial losses and large-scale unemployment. Sponsors and participants in scientific conferences confront these same challenges in moving forward.
As of this writing in early June 2020, essentially all societies in imaging and other scientific areas have canceled in-person conferences through the end of 2020. Larger organizations, such as the American Association for Center Research (AACR) and American Society of Clinical Oncology, have rapidly converted at least part of their planned content to a virtual format with reduced or free registration for members or even the general public. For the first part of the AACR virtual annual meeting, 61 000 persons registered, although numbers who actually participated in the event likely are fewer. This trend recently extended to the RSNA annual meeting for 2020, which will convert to an entirely virtual format.
Virtual meetings have nearly completely replaced in-person meetings for even modest numbers of participants (10 or more) in professional and personal life. While webinars and video broadcasts of meetings have been part of the scientific landscape for years, the pandemic has enforced a global crash course in video conferencing. Almost everyone in a virtual meeting has experienced the comment, “You are on mute”; watched a pet parade into the field-of-view; and learned how to use a virtual background to conceal dirty laundry or dishes. Against this backdrop, we presented leaders in imaging research, clinical care, and administration throughout the US with a series of questions about the pros and cons of in-person versus virtual scientific conferences. Many respondents have extensive experience planning and leading in-person scientific conferences. We acknowledge two points at the outset. First, while we compiled responses from leaders in the field, we did not collect information in a scientifically rigorous manner. Second, while we have a very clear understanding of in-person conferences, exclusively “virtual” conferences remain at early stages of development. With advances in technologies and adaptations by participants and conference organizers, current strengths and limitations of virtual conferences likely will change as the format evolves.
Based on responses from experts in imaging, we compare in-person versus virtual meetings in the context of effects on scientific communication, meeting participation, networking, as well as impacts on societies and organizations. As we emphasize throughout the text, in-person and virtual meetings are not interchangeable, and the final landing spot for meeting formats hopefully will capture strengths of both formats.
Adapting Scientific Conferences to the Realities Imposed by COVID-19