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HFSA 2020: Out with the Old, In with the New

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As an HFSA Programming Committee member, we knew this meeting would be like none other, given the COVID-19 pandemic forced the meeting format to change from in-person to virtual. Personally, I couldn’t have been happier with the final HFSA 2020 product. While I greatly value in-person meetings, largely because of the way networking and socializing occurs organically, I found the virtual format was quite effective in delivering high-quality content, particularly sessions that were prerecorded and then followed with live discussion sessions in which participants could ask their questions of the panel via the online portal. Compared to previous years when speakers frequently exceeded their allotted time resulting in the last speaker(s) being rushed and/or the panel discussion being abbreviated or deleted, each of the sessions I participated in that utilized the prerecorded format followed by live panel discussion were on time, allowing for rich discussion among the panelists. 

I’m grateful that content was spread out over one week as opposed to concentrated over four days. Personally, I found this format the least disruptive to my busy professional and home life, allowing me to participate in more sessions. As a result, I was able to “geek out” professionally for a few hours AND still be present for my family.

Despite the challenges of the virtual format, mentoring (e.g., Speed Mentoring) and networking (e.g., receptions) were still made possible. I served as a non-physician mentor during the Speed Mentoring session. Despite a few technical hiccups, we were able to have meaningful discussions with mentees. I observed similar engagement in one of the other breakout rooms during which Drs. Pina and Tang shared their expertise with two junior HFSA physician members.

As an author and mentor on one of the posters, I thought the virtual poster format was excellent, especially the ability for presenters to record a 5-minute description of their poster. While I suspect the virtual format may have resulted in fewer questions being asked of presenters and perhaps delays in presenters answering participant questions because of the lack of interpersonal interaction, the narration provided the opportunity for presenters to highlight their work in a more personal manner. While not all poster presenters took advantage of this opportunity, I found the posters that had narration were easier to follow — the next best thing to in-person presentation.

While the virtual format did not allow for the intimacy of an in-person meeting, it did provide participants the opportunity to see many of the experts — their colleagues — in more comfortable settings like their homes and offices. Several participants tweeted about their participation in sessions from the comforts of home — often with photos! There was something refreshing about seeing many of the heart failure experts in more comfortable clothes and settings. While most presenters were naturally in professional attire, is was comforting seeing some presenters ditch the shirt, tie, suit, dress, etc., for a simple collared shirt or a sweater with the logo of their institution or alma mater. In the Speed Mentoring session “green room,” Dr. Psotka had his child on his lap while Dr. Teerlink’s colleagues joked about his wine collection. Prior to our Clinical Conundrums session, I observed an electric guitar in Dr. Howlett’s background and learned about his son’s musical talents. The interpersonal connections provided by HFSA are part of what draws members to this organization. Getting a peek into the personal lives of both experts and participants alike enriched the virtual meeting, providing a bit more intimacy than simply viewing your computer screen.

Overall, I felt the meeting was quite successful, despite the challenges presented by COVID-19. The content was strong, the virtual platform was effective, and engagement between members was common. Judging by the Twitter activity I observed during the meeting, it seems that many of the participants agree. For example, several of the mentees with whom I interacted expressed their happiness with this session on Twitter! I received several emailed responses to questions I asked of poster presenters. Finally, I’ve received unsolicited emails from participants stating how happy they were with the “amazing” program, describing the content quality as “exceptional” and complimenting the platform interface and the access it provided to content. 

If the formal meeting feedback is consistent with the informal feedback I’ve received, I suspect some virtual elements will be incorporated into future meetings. This would represent a bit of a paradigm shift — out with the old, in with the new!

The author reports no conflicts of interest.

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