The Rise of the Virtual Conference

Like many conferences over the past year, 2021 marked USCAP’s first virtual conference in its 110-year history. College of American Pathologists (CAP) also went virtual with its CAP21 Virtual conference. Feedback about CAP21 Virtual was very positive as we reported in a recent blog post. USCAP 2021 provided an opportunity to discuss the state of major pathology conferences and how future formats might look now that we’ve experienced the benefits, and challenges, of virtual meetings. We were curious how attendees at USCAP’s annual meeting this year felt about their virtual conference experience, so we hit up our Twitter followers to get insight into their experiences.


Why do you attend USCAP’s annual meeting?

With USCAP’s long history of annual meetings, what keeps pathologists coming back year after year? Dr. Julie Feldstein, a hematopathologist at Mount Sinai, said, “I have been attending USCAP since 1992 as a resident, so by tradition and training, seeing and catching up with mentors, co-trainees and colleagues over the years is a joy.” Dr. Sinchita Roy, a cytopathologist and molecular pathologist at MD Anderson, is also an avid attendee. “This is the one meeting I have not missed ever since I started out as a pathology resident. USCAP feels like home. I get updates on everything in Pathology (unlike subspecialty meetings I also attend), I meet up with friends and colleagues and I can network and start new collaborations and projects. I come back with new ideas and can’t wait to go back to the meeting again the next year,” she told us.


What was your experience with its first-ever virtual format?

Dr. Feldstein told us, “This year because of the virtual nature of the meeting, I had the opportunity to attend courses in other subspecialties such as Soft Tissue, Pulmonary, and Gastrointestinal pathology which was not possible in past live meetings.”

Dr. Roy said, “Sadly this year my personal networking and connecting in real time was less than other years. Not taking time off and physically being at the meeting meant I was attending sessions while being on service and signing out cases. That restricted my ability to connect with friends and colleagues. However, I loved the flexibility and being able to listen to the talks at our own pace. I hope even when we have in-person meetings we still make the courses and material available on demand like this year.”


Did you tweet during the meeting?

If you remember from our previous post on pathologists and social media, live tweeting has become a prolific way to spread knowledge before, during and after pathology conferences with incredible reach. This year’s USCAP annual meeting was no different. Dr. Feldstein said, “I tweet as an exercise to go through the schedule, agenda, courses, talks, companion meeting materials, poster offerings and to get more out of the meeting. I was among the early in situ Pathologists group invited by Dr. Jerad Gardner so I look forward to and am happy to carry on the tradition.” Dr. Adam Booth, GI/Liver fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, told us, “I am fortunate to serve on the USCAP Social Media Subcommittee and enjoyed live tweeting lecture material, announcements, and well wishes to colleagues on their excellent presentations. Tweeting during the meeting is a way to share knowledge with others, connect, and drive discussion on presented topics.” Dr. Roy said, “Live tweeting at conferences is now part and parcel of me attending a meeting. I get my updates from others who are tweeting. And even though this year it was virtual, and we had a lot more time to listen to presentations and pace things out, I was still constantly checking the USCAP meeting hashtag for real-time updates.”


How do you navigate a large pathology conference, either virtually or in-person?

Even enthusiasts of pathology conferences may find it challenging to maneuver through all of the lectures, poster sessions and networking forums. Dr. Booth has some great advice. “Have a plan! Often live events of interest may overlap or there’s just a lot to take in, so reviewing the meeting schedule in advance is helpful,” he said. Dr. Roy also goes into the conference with a plan. She told us, “I go through all abstracts and course descriptions prior to the meeting and make an itinerary ranked by priority of interest. Then during the meeting I try to do the ‘must go’ followed by ‘may go’ followed by ‘interested but will go depending on time and availability’.”


Navigating through a virtual meeting is more fluid in that virtual meetings allow attendees to see more presentations without having to rush from conference room to conference room or miss a lecture that is running concurrently with one they are already attending. They simply click on a different room and they’re in. "This year because of the virtual nature of the meeting, I had the opportunity to attend courses in other subspecialties such as Soft Tissue, Pulmonary, and Gastrointestinal pathology which was not possible in past live meetings.” Dr. Feldstein continued, “Being virtual, access to information and data is much more efficient, allowing time to digest complex information and data. Also, to have continued access over two months to re-review in a more relaxed manner with unobstructed views is very good.”


What are your thoughts on pathology conferences being virtual?

“I think you could go entirely virtual and actually enhance the educational mission of the meeting. There are so many benefits to attendees: far lower cost, far greater ease of accessibility, ability to view far more presentations, convenience, and far less disruption to life and family,” stated Dr. Sanjay Mukhopadhyay, a lung pathologist at Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Booth agrees. “One of the great benefits of virtual meetings is how many more people can attend and participate. Whether it’s time off service, time away from family, or travel expenses, many routinely cannot attend. The easy access to lectures and presentations is hard to beat.”


“The challenges around a virtual platform are you don't have the dedicated, protected time to focus on the meeting - we're attending the meeting while covering service, fielding phone calls, attending numerous work meetings via Zoom, and doing things on the home front like loading and unloading dishwashers and putting kids to bed. This means it takes some extra effort to utilize some of the networking resources like the ‘social lounges’ and ‘office hours’ for posters and platforms,” noted Dr. Sara Jiang, Associate Professor of Pathology at Duke.


What are your thoughts on a hybrid (virtual/in-person) conference?

“Hybrid is the way to go. The main challenge is to figure out how to make it happen while keeping the organization financially viable,” said Dr. Mukhopadhyay. Dr. Booth is also a fan of the idea of hybrid. He told us, “A hybrid meeting would allow for more participation while allowing those able to be there in person. However, that’s almost like putting on two concurrent meetings (virtual/in-person) which would no doubt be expensive for organizations. I hope technology and lessons learned from this year of virtual meetings can help organizations develop optimal approaches to host hybrid meetings.” Dr. Feldstein said, “Hybrid meetings would be good like in other societies such as ASH, ASCO, and CAP. There will still be challenges in socializing but opportunities exist for more collaboration or visibility.”


Dr. Jiang added, “I think that the virtual element isn't going to go away anytime soon - the convenience and flexibility is undeniable. Personally, though, I am looking forward to hopefully being able to go back to meetings in person - I am as big a proponent of social media and online networking as it is possible to be, but nothing replaces the wonderful in-person interactions I have always had with my colleagues and friends at meetings like USCAP.”


Thank you to the doctors who were interviewed for this article - we appreciate your time and insight. Don’t forget to check out our Pathology Conventions Roundup blog post where we list virtual and in-person conferences in 2021 and beyond. Do you have an opinion on the future format of pathology conferences or an interesting perspective you’d like to share? We’re listening! Just email Kristin at kmitchener@instapathbio.com and let’s talk.


Built on the vision of better patient outcomes, Instapath was founded in 2017 by engineers and scientists to enable patients to immediately know their cancer diagnosis. Our team made it our mission to develop fast and easy digital pathology technology so diagnosis can be made in minutes instead of days. To learn more about Instapath and our technology, visit https://instapathbio.com or contact us at info@instapathbio.com.