For most of 2020 and 2021, scientific meetings have been fully virtual or offered “hybrid” options with a combination of in-person and virtual options. There have been notable tradeoffs with the convenience of virtual streaming lectures and research material juxtaposed with the time limitations of trying to “attend” sessions while at home or from work. The value of the in-person meeting has always been a combination networking, collaborating, and refreshing your clinical practice.
As a result, the Heart Failure Society of America 2021 provided an opportunity of the best of both worlds with a hybrid format with many people choosing to attend in-person in Denver, CO. With the delta variant and case counts of COVID-19 still on the rise in many parts of the country, this meeting served as an example of how to potentially balance the aforementioned tradeoffs with a hybrid experience. This meeting historically tends to be more intimate than other larger cardiology meetings in that it tends has a more niche focus for those who specialize in the care of heart failure patients. I chose to travel to Colorado from Salt Lake City (thankfully, a quick flight) and precautions including an abundance of hand sanitizer as well as the use of color-coded conference lanyards (red/yellow/green – implying your comfort level with personal contact with colleagues). Proof of prior COVID-19 vaccination as well as wearing masks during the meetings were expectations. These gestures, plus greater separation between seating, were important nods towards the safety of those attending the meeting.
The meeting itself was refreshing. Yes, it is always great to catch up on the latest science and listen to debates regarding sequencing of contemporary heart failure therapies. Impressively some of the discussions included panel members on the stage in person in real time with faculty from their homes from international locations. However, much more refreshing was the value of seeing and connecting with old colleagues, mentors, and friends. I was quickly reminded of how social creatures we are and the loss of professional connection experienced over the past 1.5 years. Moreover, there has been a greater amount of digital professional interaction during the pandemic on social networks and the meeting provided the opportunity to connect “IRL” (in real life) with these colleagues.
I personally avoided the larger gatherings with the goal of maintaining some degree of social distance. I also kept my time at the meeting on the shorter end for sessions I was interested or participating in. I felt very safe during the meeting and it provided insight toward how future meetings are held as the hybrid format is likely here to stay. Our bandwidth for exclusive digital meetings is limited by virtual burnout, an increase in distractions when not on site, and a loss of connection over time. That being said, for those who want to experience in-person discussions, debates, and coffee with a friend or colleague, we cannot underestimate the importance of human interaction. Hybrid options will be here to stay and attendees of in-person meetings will now have to be more selective on how to invest their professional time.
Dr. Shah reports no conflicts of interest.
Illustration by April Brust