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Rinckside
ISSN 2364-3889

Rinck PA.
Congresses – a feeling of uncertainty.
(II) A case in point: ECR and the Corona fallout.
Rinckside 2020; 31,5: 9-10. [id-cgr].



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An abridged version was published as:
Maverinck –
Global congresses face deeply uncertain future.
7 July 2020.
Aunt Minnie Europe

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ECR and other conferences.



Congresses – a feeling of uncertainty

(II) A case in point: ECR and the Corona fallout

hen suddenly Covid-19 struck, the force of circumstances led to unthought-of changes. It hit not only airlines and restaurants, but it was also a terrible blow to continuing education and medical conference enterprises.

The collateral damage was and will be enormous, because the anxiety of people will reduce the number of conference attendants drastically. In the case of the European Congress of Radiology a danger of infection is not only the concourse of participants in the entrance hall, the corridors and the auditoria, but more so the pushing and shoving in the narrow aisles of the trade show – a perfect breeding ground for any kind of airborne infection.

For the first time in our lives many of us experienced draconian restrictions on our professional conduct and individual freedom in an open and thus roaming society. We all had to do some rethinking and for a number of people in the field this rethinking process had to be extremely fast. Thousands of conferences were called off as the Covid-19 virus outbreak worsened.

The ECR statement when canceling the meeting this March mirrored this shock:

“The choice not to hold ECR 2020 onsite presents a significant burden for the European Society of Radiology and will also influence future congresses and endeavors ...”

There is no fast remedy for that, and financial state support for conferences seems unlikely. When these conferences or trade fairs will take place again one day, they will look and feel different. The “Vienna experience” will probably change significantly for the time being [1].

The solution offered was immediate: Go digital. But one cannot just suddenly arrange a conference online. It would be very hard to recreate the experience of a big meeting online – it’s a big step from e-teaching to e-congressing.

We know that e-teaching can be effective. But one misses the opportunity for direct communication and discussion with the lecturers and colleagues. People travel to attend a conference not just for the information, but to be around other people. The informal social contact often appears to be more important than the learned papers [2, 3].


Video conferences and switching from onsite to online

Yet, meanwhile we rushed into the age of video-sharing platforms such as Zoom and YouTube. After a number of weeks of lockdown, a weariness spread among home office workers: "Zoom fatigue" – looking at a screen hours after hours is exhausting and tiring. The quality of the transmission is sometimes poor, image and sound bad. People sitting in front of a screen for more than three hours a day complain about problems with their eyes. Dryness, blurred vision, headache, sensitivity to light or premature tiredness lead to lack of concentration and increase the error rate.

It's feasible to switch from an onsite to an online meeting format and still meet most of the goals of a conventional medical conference, but to do so is challenging, the ESR concedes:

"Many of the necessary techniques are well established. Recording and streaming of conference sessions for later on-demand viewing has been offered by some societies (including the ESR) for some years. Live webinars are common educational tools. However, a full congress is a more complex proposition, involving a variety of session types, aimed at diverse types of attendees, with many different forms of interaction between speakers and delegates."

Still, looking at the online conference schedule participants are faced with an overladen program once again:

“The meeting will not only have a packed scientific and educational program … but will also feature hundreds of abstract and poster presentations … topped off with a virtual exhibition involving hundreds of industry partners.

“ESR Connect is set to host over 1,000 abstract and poster presentations, recorded and uploaded remotely by presenters from across the world ...

“Finally, ECR 2020 Online will also feature a virtual exhibition taking place on July 15-21. The interactive exhibition will host hundreds of companies, providing visitors with the opportunity to visit virtual booths, watch product demonstrations and talk live with company representatives.”

The announcements talk in superlatives: “The congress ... still holds much of the same magic that onsite ECR’s are already well-known for”. And: “ECR has always been known for its elegance, style, and love for detail.”

There is a lot of self-complacency and smugness here. Still, one must admire the enormous work done to readjust to the abrupt new situation and congratulate the team in Vienna. However, there is no guarantee of success.

I remember a discussion with a publisher of medical journals and books. He stated that they don’t really publish for readers but for the authors because they need publications for their career. The same holds for many congresses, among them ECR. For this purpose the new YouTube style of presentations for a digital audience is perfect, although the citations of contributions will be difficult.


Repercussions

ECR and ESR have turned from a forum of professional exchange into a business. When a business model no longer works, you have to change it. However, in the end, there is not the one and only right way. It would be sad to see that something like ECR, built up over decades, finds an unexpected end.

As a consequence of the pandemia, there might be a less global, more local patient-centered regional medicine. Hopefully one will see less research in new imaging hardware and software, and a turn to patient care and impact studies of existing methods and applications. Medical imaging does not need permanent changes of systems and techniques. Medical imaging needs stability, reliably proven outcome of recent and novel techniques, and intelligent and well-trained physicians. We have the choice now.

Read Part I of this column.

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References

1. Rinck PA. Congresses – a feeling of uncertainty • (I) The case of ECR. Rinckside 2020; 31,4: 7-8.
2. Rinck PA. From ECR 2009: Walking down the corridors … Rinckside 2009; 20,2: 3-4.
3. Rinck PA. Getting ready for ECR. Rinckside 2019; 30,2: 3-4.

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