The Virtue of Virtual: Adjusting to a New Normal

by Mina Shariq

In the early part of 2020, as most of the world entered lockdown, we all looked for new ways to continue to lead our lives as normally as possible. From Zoom gender-reveal parties to conducting virtual apartment tours, it’s safe to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost every aspect of life as we know it. Healthcare professionals (HCPs), in particular, are a group of people who have been hugely affected by COVID-19 and have had to quickly adapt their day-to-day routines to continue to adequately support patients and engage with peers.

After accommodating for full-body PPE, conducting patient appointments virtually, and adopting remote monitoring solutions, HCPs must now adjust to another disrupted part of their occupation: medical conferences. Medical congress season has arrived, and many organizations have had to make the difficult decision of whether to cancel their symposia or continue virtually. A traditionally well-loved part of the medical profession, attended by thousands of HCPs from around the world, medical congresses are a great opportunity for pharmaceutical companies and HCPs to interact.

Medical congress season has arrived, and many organizations have had to make the difficult decision of whether to cancel their symposia or continue virtually. 

In 2018, according to Market Research Media, the virtual event market was set to grow from $14 billion to $18 billion by the year 2023. For marketers, the increased use of digital techniques for engaging HCPs has been prompted by the large technological takeovers in the medical field as well as rising comfort levels for all things digital among a growing population of “digital native” HCPs. In lieu of in-person events, the global pandemic could be the final factor that pushes pharma and healthcare companies to engage HCPs through virtual meetings.

In 2018, according to Market Research Media, the virtual event market was set to grow from $14 billion to $18 billion by the year 2023

For pharmaceutical companies and congress organizers, the question still remains: how can we properly honor a long-loved tradition of the medical profession while providing an engaging, exciting, and educational virtual congress experience for HCPs? With only a limited number of medical conferences choosing to go forward virtually this year, we explored what went well, how HCPs felt about the experience, and where they hoped for improvements.

First, the positives:

Novel and engaging ways to display content

Interactive content, visualizations that allow viewers to manipulate datasets, clickable videos, games, and even augmented/virtual reality were all well received by HCPs. These more creative methods for developing content have served to meet a variety of learning styles and goals, resulting in better engagement and information retention.

Access to information at all times

HCPs, often time constrained, have enjoyed being able to access content whenever it suits them at their own pace. This has been a driver in further enabling them to incorporate these learnings into their daily workflows.

Ability to pick and choose relevant content

With virtual conference formats and the ability to access information at their leisure, HCPs were able to focus on the content they felt was truly relevant to them without worrying that they were missing out on other information. 

Now, where the opportunities for improvement lie:

Simulating peer-to-peer interactions

Overwhelmingly HCPs cited networking and interacting with colleagues as being what they missed the most about in-person conferences. As more HCPs join the online space, conference-specific hashtags during this time are especially important for HCPs to quickly get to the content they are interested in and join in with relevant conversations. Careful consideration should be given to organizing virtual breakout rooms, Q&As, and forums in which to facilitate conversation.

Content optimized for digital consumption

Simply repurposing existing content without considering how it will be viewed by the audience is not enough. Content should be designed specifically for a virtual environment, optimizing for both desktop and mobile.

Difficulty navigating to relevant information

It is paramount for content to be clearly labeled and easy to get to. Navigation from start to finish, throughout virtual booths and even post-event websites, needs to be intuitive and user friendly, along with any signposting to external links. Brands should consider the entire user experience at every touchpoint with HCPs. 

Lack of pre-event communication and post-event takeaways

Some attendees felt they did not receive enough pre- and post-event information or materials. With the huge opportunity to now extend the engagement journey with attendees and keep them interested, it is important to consider the full virtual conference experience from prior to through after attendance.

In general, HCP sentiment toward virtual congresses has been highly positive. Many have cited being grateful for the prospect of still having access to much-needed new data and updates in their therapy areas. HCPs have also realized the added benefits of virtual congresses being more accessible for all to participate in, with time saved and no expenses for traveling.

Overall, it is difficult to ascertain whether virtual conferences could ever successfully fill the void of in-person congresses, but for now they are our best tool for adjusting to a new normal.

Interested in learning more about how the novel coronavirus is disrupting the healthcare industry? Check out our latest insights on how the pharma industry is engaging and supporting healthcare professionals during the pandemic.