With the COVID-19 pandemic having switched virtually all of the major meeting in the cardiovascular calendar online, in-person events have begun to make a welcome return. TVT 2021 (The Structural Heart Summit, 20–22 July, Miami Beach, USA & virtual, organised by the Cardiovascular Research Foundation, New York, USA) is among the first to make a comeback, adopting the hybrid format for 2021. Course director Gregg W Stone (Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai, New York, USA) spoke to Cardiovascular News about the format for the revamped meeting, the future for hybrid events, and how the TVT community responded to the new set-up.
How did it feel to be back in an in-person meeting?
It felt quite unusual at first. The meeting was held at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, and we limited the attendance to approximately 600 participants. That meeting will normally attract approximately 1,500 people, but we purposely limited it to 600 people, all of whom were vaccinated.
For almost everybody that I spoke to TVT was their first major in-person meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone was thrilled to be back together. It did feel a little bit unfamiliar at the beginning for most people, me included, and on the first day people were feeling their way around.
In fact, many people were not even in the sessions on the first day, preferring to have more private meetings, reacquainting with people that had not seen in a long time. But by the second day the meeting rooms were again packed. It took some time to adapt and for people to reactivate and rediscover their “meeting legs” but it was highly successful and enjoyable.
Was there a noticeable change in the format of the meeting?
TVT 2021 was a hybrid meeting that had both a live audience and a virtual audience via the internet. In addition, some of the faculty were virtual as well. So, while we encouraged the faculty to be there (and most were live), a sizable proportion were virtual as it is still difficult for many international faculty (and attendees) to travel to the US. In general, the hybrid transmission nature of the meeting worked quite well. The audio-visual capabilities could accept anywhere from zero to a maximum of four hybrid presences at one time, and it was quite flexible, going from zero to four often in the same session. That worked relatively seamlessly. The transmission quality was high, there were no major broadcast delays, and we were able to communicate in real time quite effectively.
What measures were in place at the venue to keep attendees safe?
We had a mandatory mask policy, so when people were moving from session to session until they were seated and socially distanced, they did have to wear masks. We set the stage and audience seating so that the chairs were approximately six feet apart. That is a significant limitation because it does strikingly reduce the number of people that can occupy a large room. A venue that would normally hold, for example, 1,000 people might only be able to contain 250-300, depending on the seating arrangement.
We also had hand sanitisers throughout the venue. Everyone had to provide a daily attestation, confirming that they were not having any symptoms of COVID-19 and did not have a recent positive COVID-19 test or COVID-19 illness. Otherwise, we asked people to use common sense.
I would say for the most part people followed these guidelines. It was interesting because as I mentioned, this meeting was held in the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach which is a very large property. Of the thousands of other (non-TVT) hotel guests, you would rarely see anybody with a mask. So, most of us were wearing jackets or suits and ties, in Miami in July, and wearing masks and behaving appropriately at a serious medical meeting, whereas the rest of the hotel patrons were having a jolly good time, mostly maskless and in swim attire.
How was the industry involvement adapted to the new format?
We did not have an exhibit hall which requires close quarters as people move from booth to booth. Rather, many of the participating companies reserved private rooms and held small meetings. Overall, we had extremely positive feedback from industry who were thrilled to once again meet physicians face to face.
Could this be scaled up to a larger meeting?
We are quite encouraged from TVT for the feasibility of scaling up to a larger meeting – we’ll find out very soon as we are holding a hybrid TCT meeting (4‒6 November, Orlando, USA and virtual). TCT will usually attract approximately 12,000 people live, but we are going to limit TCT 2021 to 5-6,000 vaccinated attendees, again as a hybrid live and internet transmitted event, both for faculty and for attendees. TCT will be approximately 10 times as large as TVT and more complex given the breadth of the subjects that are covered but we are cautiously optimistic after the positive TVT experience that we will be able to scale up successfully.
How have the lessons from the pandemic shaped the meeting format?
During the pandemic it became clear that Zoom-type meetings are feasible and do have an important role to play. Such meetings allow more frequent interactions with colleagues, and at much lower cost and inconvenience compared with travel. Traveling halfway around the world, or even across the country for in-person meetings can be quite unproductive, although pre-COVID that was the standard, and in retrospect many of us did that more frequently than was healthy or time-efficient. So, I expect that going forward there will remain an important role for Zoom-type meetings, whether for networking and brainstorming ideas, investigator meetings, or smaller educational events.
That said, what almost all of us experienced at TVT is that there is nothing that can replace being together in-person. The immediacy of interaction with colleagues and the transmission and retention of ideas and medical information is much more effective in person. I cannot explain exactly why but it’s undeniable. Whether it is because your concentration or attention span is greater, other cues you integrate from the environment, the ease of asking questions thus making the audience feel that they are a participant rather than an observer, or other factors there is no doubt that the in-person learning experience is superior to being remote.
There is also nothing that can replace being with your colleagues for inspiration and the human experience. We were all enthused and even shocked at rediscovering how much we had missed the value of being together.
Is there a future for hybrid meetings outside of the pandemic?
I do expect that there is going to be a very active and vibrant role for so-called hybrid educational events in the future, both for the faculty and for attendees, to allow broader representation and opportunities for people that cannot be there in person to participate in an event. But as TVT 2021 vividly exemplified – there is no substitute for being there.