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Virtual meetings: doctors miss the human touch but like the convenience

Face to face meetings are still the preferred choice of healthcare professionals, a study found, with a perceived ‘lack of human interaction’ one of the biggest drawbacks of virtual medical congresses.

A survey of more than 300 doctors from six countries, by Ashfield Meetings & Events and the International Pharmaceutical Congress Advisory Association (IPCAA), found 48 per cent of those who had attended a meeting online would still rather meeting face-to-face in future.

But while only 12 per cent said they would prefer to attend virtually, 38 per cent thought their congress attendance patterns will move towards an equal balance of physical and virtual.

IPCAA’s co-president, Nicky Simpson, said: “By March this year the Covid-19 pandemic had forced the end of ‘normality’ for the majority, and one of the inevitable repercussions within the healthcare sector was that many associations and PCOs had to either cancel or postpone their events.

“Equally, a significant number of congresses took the bold decision to go 100 per cent virtual; many with just a few weeks to pivot. At IPCAA, we wanted to find out what HCPs experienced as a virtual attendee; mainly to understand what component parts of the congress have made the positive and potentially enduring transition to virtual.

More than half of those surveyed said convenience was the most useful aspect of meeting virtually (55%), while 45% said the option to view recorded sessions (45%) was the biggest bonus. Tellingly 64 per cent of respondents indicating that virtual registration fees should be no more than US$120.

However, the main challenge for presentation sessions is the apparent lack of human interaction; with colleagues (55% of respondents mentioned this) and presenters (46%) plus the number of outside distractions (32%). This absence of the personal touch is evidently missed.

Ashfield’s client partnership director, Andrew Moore, said: “The aim of our research was not to determine if virtual congresses will surpass physical as the preferred model for attendance, nor was it to expose the limitations of virtual with a view to it being a stop-gap solution and an immediate and necessary response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was purely to assess the end-to-end virtual congress experience from the perspective of the HCP – identifying which elements of a traditional, in-person congress can be, or have been, successfully replicated in a virtual setting.”

Nicky Simpson added: “We’ve gained some valuable insights from these initial findings – information that medical congress stakeholders will undoubtedly be able to use as we prepare for a world in which hybrid congresses become part of the ‘new normal.’ It is vital that evidence such as this enables us to plan and collaborate to offer rich, impactful experiences that will complement virtual with the live, face-to-face events which we all hope will return in the near future.”