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Ashfield and IPCAA study reveals what HCPs think about online congresses

Ashfield Meetings & Events (part of UDG Healthcare PLC) and the International Pharmaceutical Congress Advisory Association (IPCAA) have partnered on a study into what healthcare professionals think about online medical congresses.

Through a survey of more than 300 physicians from six countries and across 14 therapy areas, Ashfield and IPCAA gained insights that can help medical societies, professional congress organisers (PCOs) and industry consider how to shape online congresses.

IPCAA’s co-president, Nicky Simpson, said: “By March this year the Covid-19 pandemic had forced the end of ‘normality’ for the majority across the globe, 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% 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. We knew that Ashfield would be the perfect partner for this research thanks to their unrivalled congress expertise and previous White Papers on the subject.”

The report finds there is a significant bias towards the physical. When asked their preferred method of attendance, 48% of the surveyed HCPs stated they would prefer to attend face-to-face versus 12% indicating they would prefer to attend solely virtually. However, 38% of the HCPs are of the view that their congress attendance patterns will move towards an equal balance of physical and virtual.

So, what are the driving factors for embracing virtual? Knowing the challenges HCPs face when committing to attend a congress, the convenience of accessing content from home is deemed to be the most useful aspect (55% indicating this),
as is the option to view recorded sessions (45%) at a time that best suits the individual.

Yet while HCPs overtly suggest value in attending virtually, it is coupled with an expectation of a much-reduced cost, with
64% of respondents indicating that virtual registration fees should be no more than US$120. An interesting juxtaposition for associations and PCOs to consider when balancing the value of medical education content versus cost.

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.

Despite the positive aspects of attending a virtual congress, 30% of HCPs felt no connection between themselves and their peer group and just as significantly, 32% left the event with no sense of connection to industry.

The study, the second part of which is planned for before the end of 2020, looks at a variety of elements of the virtual congress, highlighting HCPs’ thoughts on accessibility and technology, how they viewed the online activities including industry symposia and poster sessions, through to connecting with industry and peers.

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.”

A summary report of the study’s initial findings, Healthcare professionals’ experiences of virtual congress, can be downloaded here.