Are virtual medical meetings the wave of the future?

It’s now possible to go to a medical meeting without actually going to the meeting.CROI Webcasts

I was assigned to cover the annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI), one of the year’s most important HIV/AIDS meetings, currently underway in San Francisco. But through a series of snafus too boring to mention I was not able to register for the conference.

No problem, said the organizers, more than 90% of the conference will be webcast.

I’ve heard this song before, and usually it means that at some distant future date some low-quality audio may be available for purchase at the rate of $40/session or thereabouts.

But I was pleasantly surprised to learn that CROI is offering much, much more. The webcasts are free, they include high quality audio, video, and PowerPoint slides, and the day’s sessions are all available the same evening. Oh, and the audio files, with slides, are also available for download in mp3 and iTunes format. For free.

Virtual attendance via webcast has both advantages and disadvantages compared to physical attendance in “meatspace.”

Advantages

  • No need to pay for travel, hotel, or even meeting registration.
  • Smaller environmental impact.
  • Can attend all sessions, even ones occurring simultaneously.
  • Can clearly hear and see the speaker, the slides, and participants in the Q&A session.
  • Can pause and rewind audio, study PowerPoint slides closely, and actually read those slides that speakers introduce by saying, “Now this slide is a little busy, but . . .”
  • Can attend in pajamas.

Disadvantages

  • No schmoozing, no networking, no catching up with old friends and colleagues.
  • Requires a fairly fast Internet connection for non-jerky video. Even with a fast connection (in CROI’s implementation, at least) streaming tended to stop halfway through a 2-hour session, and the only way to resume was to exit and reload.
  • Not possible to get a sense of how interested–or uninterested–the audience was in a particular talk.
  • I’m a big fan of poster sessions, but the CROI did not make the posters available on its webcast.
  • No way to earn CME credit for watching the webcasts, in this implementation at least.
  • No opportunity to spend time in San Francisco, one of the most exciting and beautiful cities on Earth.

I’m interested in hearing from physicians who have attended a conference via webcast. What did you think about the experience? I’d also like to hear from physicians who think this is the worst idea since bloodletting went out of fashion. Please vote in the poll and leave comments!

— Bob Finn (on Twitter @bobfinn)

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Filed under IMNG, Infectious Diseases, Polls, Practice Trends

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