Global dissemination of knowledge through virtual platforms: Reflections and recommendations from APSA/IPEG


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancelation of conventional in-person academic conferences due to the risk of virus transmission and limited ability to travel. Both the American Pediatric Surgical Association (APSA) and International Pediatric Endosurgery Group (IPEG) converted to a virtual format for their 2020 annual meetings. The purpose of this article is to review the successful implementation of the APSA and IPEG virtual meetings and reflect upon lessons learned for future virtual conferences.

Methods: Logistics, structure, and attendance statistics were reviewed. Informal interviews were conducted with key stakeholders and the number of presenters and participants were analyzed. Finally, post-meeting attendee surveys were conducted to elicit feedback after both virtual meetings.

Results: The meetings were organized in different ways, with APSA spreading a mix of scientific and clinical educational content over several months and IPEG keeping the meeting compressed, similar to previous in-person versions. Both meetings were free and therefore attracted a high proportion of participants (720 for APSA and 834 for IPEG). The meetings were felt to be educationally appropriate by most, although timing and lack of Continuing Medical Education (CME) opportunities were detractors. Most attendees said they would be willing to pay fees similar to in-person amounts. IPEG compressed presentations into four 2-hour sessions spread over 4 weeks, but also made material available on-line through a proprietary application. There was a broad range of international attendees. IPEG attracted a larger percentage of non-members than did APSA (3:1 nonmember to member ratio). Both societies reported net losses, largely due to lost registration revenue and non-refundable costs from having to switch from an in-person meeting.

Conclusions: The main advantage of the virtual meeting was increased participation while disadvantages included the lack of networking. The key lessons learned from the meetings include methods to increase interactivity, adjustments of technical logistics, and creation of enduring material. In the future, hybrid conferences will likely become more prevalent with advantages of both platforms.

Level-of-evidence: Level V - Expert Opinion.



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