Since March, over 500 medical conferences have moved to a fully-virtual format. Given the current state of the pandemic and the CDC’s guidelines for event organizers, it is likely that virtual conferences will continue to be the standard for the foreseeable future. In order to take full advantage of opportunities for engagement with physicians at virtual conferences, pharma will have to adapt quickly and experiment with a range of new approaches.

While early virtual conferences have proven successful in expanding access to data, engagement between pharma manufacturers and physicians has suffered

High levels of attendance at virtual conferences highlight how reducing the logistical and financial burden associated with in-person events can expand access to data. For instance, this year’s virtual American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting attracted over 61,000 registrants (up from a typical attendance of 23,000).

Physicians reported a similar sentiment after the recent virtual American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference. A majority (52%) report agreeing that the virtual format provides greater ease of access to data, posters, and presentations, while only 7% report that they believe in-person meetings offer greater ease of access.

However, while access to data is a highlight of virtual meetings, physicians cite a desire for greater engagement and networking opportunities.

“I thought the virtual format was convenient, and I liked the access to the presentations. I miss the networking that normally occurs in-person. I also feel more focused on the conference when I am physically there.”
“Perhaps in the future there could be more encouragement of networking / research collaborations.”

Many event organizers are attempting to add these interpersonal networking opportunities to the framework of their virtual conferences. In addition to promoting networking among physicians themselves, organizers are also attempting to facilitate physician-manufacturer engagement by offering virtual manufacturer booths to enable physicians to engage virtually with pharma reps. Virtual booths so far have been observed to range from minimalist (contact information, website directories, etc.) to digital recreations of physical booths. However, physician interest has been limited. In fact, only 16% of physicians who attended ASCO report having visited virtual booths.

While many physicians are turning to social media to discuss data and the latest developments with their peers, limited engagement between physicians and pharma reps has been observed on these platforms to date.

Pharma manufacturers need to adopt new strategies and expand their efforts to engage physicians, both during and following virtual conferences

As virtual conferences continue to evolve, pharma will need to innovate continuously and find a path forward for engaging physicians around virtual conferences by

  • more actively working to drive traffic to virtual booths
  • looking beyond the specific dates scheduled for the virtual conference and seeking to capitalize on the longer timeframes for which data is being made available
  • following KOL and physician discussion on social media closely to inform messaging both during and after the conference and to ensure physicians’ concerns are being addressed by pharma reps

Like any major transition, the shift from in-person to virtual conferences will require a reimagining of traditional approaches. Companies that are willing to experiment and adapt rapidly can set themselves up for success at virtual conferences moving forward.


See how Ferma can help your team make the most of virtual conferences through:

  • Information Collection: Videos → Smart session deck with audio transcripts
  • Discussion Coverage: Searchable sessions’ Q&A and social listening (Twitter)
  • Session Overview: Integrated view of session contents and key discussions
  • Custom Reports: Customize your post conference intelligence reports
  • Market Research: HCP reaction, sourced from our in-house panel of 20,000 HCPs

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