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Next congress, please: making the most of virtual pharmaceutical congresses

By Aaron Hall

Aaron Hall

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost three years since Professor Chris Whitty became a household name while uttering three simple words: “Next slide, please.”

Of course, his contribution to the UK’s navigation of the COVID-19 pandemic was so much more than his viral memeability, but those three words became synonymous with remote working, virtual environments and a newfound digital etiquette we found ourselves learning, often with humorous results.

This shift across the UK and the world over to embrace digitising our everyday activities almost overnight forced societies and industries to think and act differently. Healthcare, especially, rapidly changed its accessibility and delivery, swapping freedoms with limitations and final farewells with FaceTime calls. We’ve all seen and likely had firsthand experience of the strain COVID-19 has placed upon our healthcare professionals (HCPs), providers and us as patients.

But there are many other aspects of ‘being HCPs’ that go beyond front-line care where COVID-19 has brought about change. There’s one platform that incorporates almost every aspect of working in healthcare delivery that has undergone a stark transformation in the last few years: congresses.

A mainstay in the calendars of HCPs, congresses have long been the ‘one-stop-shop’ to fulfil the needs of HCPs: peer-to-peer collaboration? Check. Treatment and therapy area education? Check. Academic research presentations? Check. Interaction with pharmaceutical and life sciences companies? Check. All wrapped up neatly under one roof over a long weekend in a conference centre, filled with thousands of like-minded individuals.

All these experiences, however, have one thing in common – physical togetherness.

Well, had in common.

With the pandemic preventing everything from less-than-2m-apart interaction to international travel, events and congresses found themselves suddenly unable to go ahead in their traditional format. Now, three years on, we’ve seen virtual congresses and recently hybrid virtual/physical experiences work their way through their growing pains and seemingly establish themselves as the ‘new normal’ moving forward.

For HCPs, this ongoing virtual or hybrid approach has led to numerous benefits that make them an attractive proposition over in-person events:

  • Convenience: virtual events facilitate attendance at multiple events throughout the year without travel or clinic management implications
  • Flexibility: on-demand access to content allows learning anywhere, anytime
  • Accessibility: virtual congresses broaden their reach to those who may have difficulty attending in-person events, such as those with disabilities or who work in remote locations
  • Networking: enhanced tools and features allow networking and peer-connections, just like an in-person event
  • Sustainability: a rising concern for many, with virtual events reducing individual and event- generated carbon footprint by reducing travel, material sourcing, building and disposal.

However, as we’ve seen with physical events year-on-year, attendees of virtual congresses are looking for bigger, better and new ways
to keep things fresh and exciting at the next conference. With virtual, there’s also the hidden need to keep those in attendance engaged, as their environment – often their home – comes with many more distractions than an in-person event. So, how can we continue to innovate virtual congresses?

  • Gamification: focus on expanding interactivity and engagement through ‘experiences’, such as completing specific activities or attending sessions, knowledge checks with leader boards or interactive patient cases
  • Immersive technologies: virtual reality and augmented reality can enhance experiences such as virtual booths, medical device demos, mechanism of action or disease experiences and networking events
  • Personalisation: deepen meaningfulness by making use of data and user insights, tailoring content and recommendations based on interests, specialisms and user-selected categories
  • Interactivity: workshops, roundtables and live Q&A sessions all add opportunities for engagement and enhance learning through questions, knowledge sharing and meaningful discussions
  • Social media: build open and closed communities to provide attendees spaces to connect and network with each other while being mindful of relevant codes of practice. Elements such as hashtags, social media feeds, closed Discord of Facebook groups and live Twitter feeds during conference sessions all add additional layers of interest for attendees.

By incorporating fresh and interesting means of interactivity, virtual congresses can continue to co-exist alongside physical offerings. They offer a convenient and flexible way for HCPs to stay abreast of the latest advances in their field, while also continuing to connect with colleagues and experts from around the world. And plenty of opportunities to continue uttering those three simple words.

Aaron Hall is Associate Creative Director at Purple Agency

20th March 2023

From: Marketing


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