How Technologies Shape The Future Of Medical Conferences

Medical events should live up to the expectations

When I arrive at a conference or panel talk, I always hope to take part in a vibrant conversation and leave with insights about how to make the best future for medicine possible. But most events were chock-full of boring speeches delivered in front of bullet-point filled Powerpoints, sounding and feeling the same as talks 20 years ago. As the needs of patients and physicians, as well as guests and visitors, constantly change, so should medical events. But do their organizers realize this?

Did you know that it’s already possible to use augmented reality during presentations to get across the core message of the talk to audiences better? Are you aware of the potential that virtual reality possesses for medical events and conferences? Do you know how to fully utilize the arsenal of social media to engage your crowd?

1) Make participation timeless through social media!

Previously, when I met peers at an event, we might have found the time to talk, and that was all. Conference organizers work a lot to create great content at an event. But participants should not stop sharing ideas when the event is over. The most innovative medical events stay online even after the physical meetup has wrapped up. Attendees keep on discussing their fields of interest, the questions, and issues raised by using the event’s hashtag.

Conferences and events usually have an official hashtag on Twitter and support this idea, integrating easy ways to share and discuss its events. And if they don’t have that yet, they should. Not only is it much more interactive, but organizers would benefit from it as well, since attendees would promote the event to their communities, turning interested bystanders into the next event’s participants. Browse tweet chats of #doctors20 and #medx to see the effect social media can have on medical events.

2) VR/AR for better content

Soon it will not be not enough for speakers to get on the stage with bullet-pointed PowerPoints, while the world is immersing into 3D movies and life-like video games. The appearance of virtual reality and augmented reality in everyday life will raise the bar for presenters.  VR and AR could enhance the content of presentations and visualize ideas which are otherwise difficult to imagine. This is especially important in healthcare, where sometimes it is easier to point to a specific area in the human body than describe it.

Imagine an audience and the presenter wearing Oculus Rift or Sony Morpheus devices, and a huge VR skull floating around on the stage. All the devices are connected and if you don’t have your headwear, you only see an empty stage. Expert of applying VR in medicine, Brennan Spiegel and his team already provided a similar experience. He told me that with the help of Medscape and Confideo Labs at a #MedEd lecture he talked to his colleague, Dr. Lin Chang, who was in “real reality” on the stage, while Spiegel walked around in VR, interacting with the slides and engaging in a conversation about them with other colleagues. A live audience watched the scene all unfold. “I’m convinced this is the future of live stage CME talks.  I will do this again and in full at the Virtual Medicine conference next March at Cedars-Sinai“, added Spiegel. We agree completely!

Another great tool for immersive storytelling is augmented reality. The difference is that while AR lets users see the real world and projects digital information onto the existing environment, VR shuts out everything else completely and provides an entire simulation. Great Hungarian start-up, Prezi is working on enhancing its great presentation format with AR. Dr. Robert Sapolsky recently streamed his talk, titled “BEHAVE: The biology of humans at our best and worst”, live from the Prezi offices to the Vancouver TED stage using Prezi AR. It is great to see how AR could visualize his message in an active and a more engaging way. We cannot wait to work with Prezi AR on the upcoming presentations of The Medical Futurist!

3) Engaging audiences in more exciting ways

Social media helps connect us with our peers, but that’s not always enough. There is a reason why they say the “handshake” is missing from social media discussions. However, with live streaming and virtual reality technology entering the mainstream, event organizers could launch live, virtual or collaborative workshops around the world and bring that “handshake” closer. This enables interested people to take part in their events while sitting in their armchairs at home. Moreover, those who cannot afford traveling around the world could still attend important medical meetings.

No matter whether it’s a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram Live or a UStream platform – the latter already leveraging on IBM Watson’s machine learning techniques to generate captions from live speech. Plenty of medical events, such as Exponential Medicine, already use live streaming to connect far-away audiences with their content and thus broaden the reach of their conference. We hope that it will become a general rule of thumb.

VR devices like the Oculus Rift could also massively increase the scope of an event. They can put participants in touch with experts and “virtual participants” from across the globe, enhancing dialogue and the quality of ideas generated. For example, it was a sensation when on 14 April 2016, the first time in the history of medicine, Shafi Ahmed cancer surgeon performed an operation using a virtual reality camera at the Royal London hospital. Everyone could participate in the operation in real time through the Medical Realities website and the VR in OR app. I hope that the future holds many more events like this – as the potential for doctors, med students or just interested bystanders to learn and experience through this technology is immense!

These trends and technologies could help change the mindset of both event organizers, physicians, pharma and regulatory agencies attending or organizing medical events. It could bring patients and their caregivers closer. And finally, we could have valuable interactions without geographical or time limitations, massively elevating the impact of each event. Who doesn’t want that?