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The impact of pharma congresses on HCPs – virtual and in person

By Kieran Martinez

Kieran Martinez

Congresses play an important role in healthcare professional (HCP) development; whether it’s virtual or in person, their attendance may have wide-reaching benefits.

Why were medical congresses established?
Congresses are a bedrock for HCPs across the globe to engage with science, pharmaceutical companies and one another, and are therefore pivotal to their professional development. According to the British Medical Journal, international medical congresses date back to 1867. It is reasonable to assert that scientific exchange was the foundation of early congresses, and it remains so, albeit in more statistical forms; however, while exhibitor presence is historically critical, the influence of pharmaceutical companies is far more prominent today. The vast financial investment in this sphere by pharmaceutical sponsors often sets their HCP engagement strategies in competition with the intentions of attending delegates, a balance that the congresses’ scientific committees must maintain.

HCPs seek peer networking and the latest data
As HCPs register for a congress pass, pharmaceutical companies invest in planning increasingly complex and costly strategies to anticipate and engage their interests. When we interviewed HCPs about this topic, they confidently replied that access to new data, peer- to-peer scientific discussion and networking are very much their focus. Although pharmaceutical sponsors fund platforms for discussion and generate much of the newly available data, congresses are, at their best, expansive environments that offer numerous channels for networking, scientific education and discussion, many free from the biases of sponsor influence.

Attendance brings widespread benefits
Congresses represent important opportunities for HCP development in terms of both expanding their professional networks and accessing scientific updates. In some instances, attendance may be a mandatory expectation to achieve the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points required within their career development and as part of their organisational memberships.

The value of networking here should not be underestimated. Not only is it important to maintain existing connections with peers and establish new professional networks, but there is a status and recognition element. Many successful HCPs combine impactful networking with exposure-increasing roles such as speaking at sessions to elevate their industry status. The benefits here may extend beyond HCPs themselves; impactful networking may in turn expand the profile of their medical institution(s), conceivably creating new opportunities such as participation in clinical trials or generating investment for new research initiatives.

Congresses allow HCPs to immerse themselves in diverse peer opinions, challenging their hypotheses with colleagues and leaders in their field. This is often set in the context of updates on scientific advances and issues of topical importance, where live attendance also enables direct, real-time interactions between presenter and audience. The diversity of global healthcare markets also means that, for many HCPs, discussions and data may focus on scientific advances out of their previous or immediate reach, for which they have no direct personal experience to draw from, nor have the opportunity to seek insights from peers in their home networks.

What does this mean for patients? Ultimately, exposure to expert opinions on new data and peer discussion, or the networking of HCPs from patients’ medical centres, can only create additional opportunities in their healthcare provision.

Virtual congresses: a blur in the past?
When COVID-19 rendered international medical events unfeasible, congresses generated virtual experiences. This drastically inhibited networking opportunities, and pharmaceutical sponsor investment was routed into digital asset engagement via virtual exhibition booths that required delegate self-navigation. Virtual fatigue kicked in, as did the impracticality of dedicating calendar time during clinic commitments, and engaging in streamed scientific sessions became an increasing challenge.

Congresses have since returned as an in- person experience, or in some cases, hybrid models – and in doing so, pharmaceutical companies’ HCP engagement strategies now frequently place added emphasis on creating networking spaces that complement scientific discussion and relationship building. Bringing engagement strategies closer to the primary intentions of attending delegates will likely further benefit the HCP experience.

Hybrid models may widen HCP access
Organising committees planning hybrid congresses typically seek to integrate virtual attendees into live events where possible. Ultimately, there may always be a discrepancy between the immersive in-person congress experience, centred on networking and discussion, and submitting questions to a Q&A feed while battling the distractions presented by attending from home or from the clinic.

On the other hand, it’s likely that the cost-saving possibilities brought by virtual passes create opportunities for many HCPs who may have been otherwise unable to attend. And therefore, there is potential for congress-driven scientific exchange to reach an audience wider than previously possible. This could feasibly bring substantial benefit, most notably for HCPs (and their patients) representing lower income countries where securing funding for congress attendance has historically been more challenging.

Whichever format organising committees select, it is evident that congresses are set to remain a major asset in HCP career development.

Kieran Martinez is an Associate Client Services Director at Clinical Thinking, part of Nucleus Global, an Inizio Company

21st March 2023

From: Marketing


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