After the successful launch of “TCT Goes Tablet” at the Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics (TCT) conference in 2013, this year’s conference organizers have expanded their use of digital platforms. Despite its cost savings, efficiency and geeky glamor, the virtual experience is unlikely to unseat face-to-face meetings in the near term.
TCT Goes Tablet in 2013 was the icing on the 25th anniversary cake for TCT and its organizers, the Cardiovascular Research Foundation (CRF). CRF decided to honor the milestone by providing registered attendees a free Samsung Galaxy tablet computer. Going digital allowed the conference to enhance its offerings, ditch bulky paper program books and provide up-to-the minute information electronically.
“In the past we spent thousands of hours and many thousands of dollars preparing this several hundred page book to help people navigate the meeting,” says Gregg Stone, MD, co-director of the Medical Research and Education Division at CRF and director of cardiovascular research and education at the Center for Interventional Vascular Therapy at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. “The meeting has grown in such complexity and sophistication, we thought it would be much easier to understand and maneuver with this electronic platform.”
Giving out tablets was an add-on expense, especially given attendance that totaled about 12,000, adds Ajay J. Kirtane, MD, SM, co-director of TCT and academic officer at the Center for Interventional Vascular Therapy. But besides savings from the print program, it also eliminated the cost of erratum and last-minute alterations. “You always have people cancel and you have to make changes at the end,” he says.
What’s New in 2014
This year’s Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics (TCT) digital platform builds on the foundation put in place in 2013. “We are enhancing the app in many ways and adding new features to it,” says Gregg Stone, MD, co-director of the Medical Research and Education Division at the Cardiovascular Research Foundation in New York. Those include:
Going electronic allowed them to devote time to greater functionality such as tagging words and adding search capabilities, among other benefits. “Just getting a print program right takes a fair amount of effort,” Kirtane says. “If you don’t have to worry so much on that, and instead focus on the electronic version, you can spend more time on the enhancements of the electronic version.”
The leap to all-e was ambitious and challenging, according to project leaders. The format allowed attendees to surf through the agenda, plan activities, contact colleagues, download slides, view live case demonstrations, get Continued Medical Education material and rate the conference, with one app. Recognizing that not all attendees shared the same facility and comfort level with electronics, though, they provided numerous help desks and about 100 staff to assist people who had questions.
Beyond skill levels, they had to make the format seamless and easy to use despite differences in cultures and equipment, says Juan Iturriza, manager of creative services at CRF and the point person for developing the app. Given that a focus group couldn’t accurately reflect the diversity of the annual scientific sessions’ attendees, they had to be prepared to adapt in real time. Behind the scenes, they were tweaking and updating data during the first three days of the conference.
“If you have people from India, they will use apps in a different manner than from Latin America or Europe,” Iturriza explains. “It is very hard to account for all the user experiences and you learn from that and try to accommodate as quickly as possible.”
TCT benefited from serving a fairly technologically sophisticated audience. Many physicians attending the conference were familiar with mobile devices and could acclimate to TCT Goes Tablet quickly, Iturriza says.
Overall feedback was positive, Stone, Kirtane and Iturriza agree. “Most people, once they were used to it, really embraced not only the future but the present possibility of what an advanced medical meeting will look like,” Stone recalls.
That doesn’t mean their foray into the digital world is over. Respondents to surveys offered advice on improvements that Iturriza has incorporated into this year’s event. Beyond that, TCT planners continue to look for opportunities to elevate the program with electronic possibilities.
The team anticipates increasing use of digital capabilities at the scientific sessions as well as other CRF programs, but Stone and Kirtane don’t expect the conference to go all virtual any time soon, if ever. Both emphasize that physicians and other professionals find value in the educational and networking aspects of scientific sessions, and that excitement and intimacy can’t be replicated without some rubbing of shoulders.
“If meetings are simply a recitation of slide sets, then that function of the meeting can be replaced by a virtual type of construct,” Kirtane says. “The interactivity and networking are very hard to replace. Video conferences are not the same as getting everybody in the same room talking.”
Their polls show strong support for in-person meetings with electronic enhancements, Stone says. But given the conference’s culture of innovation, they also want to be positioned to make a transition if it is for the better. “We are keeping our eyes open and we’re not saying that might not change in the next five or 10 years,” he offers.