Published 24 Oct 2017

‘You can’t do it alone’ was the statement up for discussion and an initial poll revealed that the question of most interest to the circa 200 was ‘What do you think a scientific meeting will look like in 5 years?’ The webinar, which took place on the 18th October, was an hour-long interactive session, with audience participation encouraged via group attendance, Q&A and polls.

Webinar organisers and panellists

Steered by Peter Llewellyn, managing director of NetworkPharma Ltd. and founder of the MedComms Networking Community, and hosted by Blue Sky eLearn, the webinar panel featured five professionals representing the variety of stakeholders concerned with providing, supporting and attending scientific meetings: 

  • Healthcare professionals (HCPs): Dr Lauri-Ann Van der Poel MBChB MRCPCH MSc (Allergy) who also has recent experience of facilitating an international conference
  • Pharma: Lin Lei, associate director and head of congress and events experience at Teva Pharmaceuticals
  • Medical associations: Siân Williams, executive officer at the International Primary Care Respiratory Group (IPCRG)
  • Independent websites: Tiberio Catania, chief commercial officer at EPG Communications Group
  • Medcomms agencies: Frances O’Connor, managing director of Digital Medical Communications Ltd. (DMC)


The premise

Following introductions, Tiberio (of EPG Communications Group) kicked off with a 15-minute presentation of key insights from new research study, Scientific Meetings in the Digital Age: The what, where, when and how of HCP demand and pharmaceutical industry supply. He highlighted that while scientific meetings are still important today, access to the same information beyond the event helps 90% of healthcare professionals to ‘apply new medical approaches more quickly’. This is ‘critical’ because ‘it’s not just time-saving … it makes an actual difference to the way that they practice and … treat patients’.

After the presentation of key data, the panellists went on to discuss the related challenges and benefits. Here is an overview of some of the main discussion points:

Multichannel content creation and delivery

According to Tiberio, HCPs will ‘pick and choose what [information/sessions] they want at the live [event]’ and then subsequently, ‘which channel they go to, to consume [the rest]’. For this reason, he argued, the multichannel, and indeed, the omni-channel approach is ‘really important’. Siân (IPCRG) and Dr Lauri-Ann agreed that the future success of scientific meetings requires such an approach, and Frances pointed out that to achieve this we need to ‘start’ at the ‘endpoint’ by planning how enduring and multichannel content can be created during the initial planning phase rather than as an afterthought.

Whilst championed by all the panellists, the concept of providing enduring content was also acknowledged as a challenge. Siân stated that ‘trying to ensure that the content is right for multiple audiences and … that the language is right is difficult’, and while Lauri-Ann voiced concerns over content appropriate for different learning styles, Frances questioned how much learning styles actually impact outcome and mentioned the benefits of following Mayer’s principles for content creation.

The need to ensure ‘we put out the right content at the right time, but also in the right format’ was voiced by Lin of Teva Pharma and supported by Tiberio and Frances, with the panel in agreement that repetition is crucial for positive learning outcomes. Siân suggested that the content should vary by specialty and that mobile phones are likely to play a vital role in how HCPs in certain geographic zones receive and consume scientific meeting output.

Siân also pointed out that, although digital access provides benefits and allows for a broader geographical reach, there are practical problems including broadband speeds and language barriers, with Peter (NetworkPharma) adding that practical issues include ensuring attendance, with people simply not turning up to virtual meetings (‘something came up, I don’t have time’).

Frances concluded discussion around the challenges by stating that the obstacles to producing appropriate, digitally accessible content can be overcome by ensuring you ‘know your challenges’ in advance, rather than to ‘assume you know your challenges’ before planning the meeting.


On the webinar tagline ‘you can’t do it alone’, panellists discussed the need for collaboration in order to overcome some of the challenges associated with evolving scientific meetings in the Digital Age. The main obstacle for Frances, in the context of medcomms, is encouraging pharma partners to adopt a ‘non-siloed channel approach’ to content generation and dissemination. Lin also raised pharma company outlook as a challenge, suggesting that the ‘internal setup … needs to evolve’ to ‘incorporate digital’ and to ‘link up all the digital activities together with … congress and events’. She argued that, as content ‘planners and creators … [we] need to work closer together’ with ‘all the different stakeholders [including] different medical societies but also with third parties such as EPG Health’ and Siân also supported the argument for collaboration, stating ‘our own platform isn’t adequate, we need to work with third parties’.

Live events versus online – in 5 years?

The value of face-to-face interaction was largely conceded by the panel, being described as ‘the gold standard’ and that ‘nothing will beat face-to-face discussion and peer support’. Lauri-Ann drew from her personal experience as a healthcare professional, listing digital challenges such as transposing the human element to online meetings, ‘language barriers’, the value of practical demos, and whether KOLs are prepared to give ‘off-the-record’ information if the intention is for it to exist publicly online.

The panellists seemed to agree that meetings onsite or online need to be interactive and problem-based in order to be successful.

The webinar was brought to a close with each panellist voicing how they thought scientific meetings would differ in five years’ time, and they were largely in agreement that the fundamental aspects are unlikely to change. HCPs will still have access to the human element of networking and peer support but that the formats and channels used to disseminate the information will evolve, allowing HCPs to consume the same information via other channels at any time. To achieve this, and ultimately, better HCP education and patient outcomes, stakeholders will need to work more collaboratively.

Thank you and congratulations to NetworkPharma, BlueSky eLearning, all panellists and attendees for a successful and informative webinar.

Congratulations to Samantha Scholefield (of Virgo Health) who was selected at random from all attendees as winner of the Amazon voucher prize draw.

Watch the webinar on demand.

Related Contents


The what, where, when and how of evolving healthcare professional demand and pharmaceutical industry supply. Conducted in May 2017, the study investigates the need for live, virtual and on-demand events. Download the 80 page report for free.