Millbrook Adapts ACI in Challenging Times
Millbrook Medical Conferences upgraded an annual, flagship, national society conference to an astonishing virtual, interactive bank of education and sharing of experiences to 850+ delegates.
As COVID continued to restrict the amount of training and education that healthcare professionals were receiving, Millbrook Medical Conferences upgraded an annual, flagship, national society conference to an astonishing virtual, interactive bank of education and sharing of experiences to 850+ delegates.
A treasure hunt boosted engagement, industry interaction and competition. Content included ‘how-to’ tutorials, topic-specific sessions, acting scenarios and sponsor demonstrations. In addition, the event discussed difficult topics such as racial bias, sexism, and bullying head-on in new ways. The content will remain available online for new healthcare professionals as they join the specialty.
The British Cardiovascular Intervention Society’s three-day flagship annual scientific conference attracts approximately 1,000 attendees each year. Open to interventional cardiologists as well as allied health professionals, the meeting is the largest and most relevant educationally of its kind in the United Kingdom and the only focussed meeting offering a chance for everyone in this field of medicine, including industry, to network.
Leading up to January 2021, the British Cardiovascular Intervention Society (BCIS) was progressing as expected although this year, with the COVID pandemic still hovering, Millbrook was planning an e-conference with the hope that it might be able to have some faculty at a venue. As all event managers will have experienced, nothing is guaranteed during such a time.
Due to the huge spike in COVID cases over the Christmas period, it was decided, just three weeks before the conference was due to take place, that the conference should be postponed for three months. Most of the faculty and delegates were frontline workers and about to be transferred to support the ITU and respiratory physicians with the second wave. The Millbrook team knew that it wasn’t the right time for ACI to go ahead but recognised that the education was still very much needed, so should go ahead in spring.
Millbrook Medical Conferences (Millbrook) is the organising secretariat for BCIS and professional conference organiser (PCO) for BCIS meetings. Millbrook’s Managing Director, Fiona McDonald, was on the programme committee for BCIS’s ACI Virtual Experience, and therefore, was heavily involved in the topic selection, content creation and just as importantly, the delivery of the conference. Fiona’s previous experience as a medical secretary within the NHS and knowledge proved invaluable as Fiona was able to bring a fresh perspective to ACI.
The annual ACI (Advanced Cardiovascular Intervention) conference is part-funded by sponsorship from the pharmaceutical and medical device industry, and in return companies would traditionally have a booth within the exhibition hall, giving them the opportunity to network with delegates and generate new business. As such interaction was not possible virtually, Millbrook consulted with industry throughout the process to ensure the format offered value for money and ample opportunities to generate business. Through the process, Millbrook found that companies were not keen on the virtual format they had experienced at previous conferences and were struggling to engage with delegates at all. Posing a huge challenge for the PCO, Millbrook had to ensure that industry felt included and saw some return for their investment.
Millbrook thought up the idea of incorporating a ‘virtual treasure hunt’ to combat the challenges faced by industry representatives and ensure high engagement. Delegates were presented with various questions relating to every aspect of the conference, from the programme content to the sponsors and exhibition, and on-demand and live content.
Users were then directed to all areas of the e-conference to find the answers to the questions and for every correct answer they earned points. A public leader board was made available and the top three competitors had the opportunity to win an annual BCIS membership, worth up to £300.
The virtual treasure hunt resolved the issue of companies feeling like delegates were not connecting with their representatives and content. In addition, it added an element of fun and created a sense of suspense and competition to the e-conference. Overall, the virtual treasure hunt was a huge hit and received fantastic feedback from industry and delegates alike.
A prominent issue within interventional cardiology is the lack of women that work within the speciality, of all consultant cardiologists specialising in intervention, less than 6% are women. In response to this, BCIS created the Women in Cardiology Focus Group to explore and address the issue.
ACI 2021 marked one year since the group was created and for its debut group report to be presented to members. The President was keen to implement real change to address this, with Millbrook’s Fiona on the programme panel. A role-play session was created, there were three scenarios, each featuring a high-profile senior consultant cardiologist and a professional actor. The two were presented with a real-life scenario, whereby there is implied bullying, miscommunication, or sexism, and the two act out how they would behave in the situation. Regular time-outs were scheduled so both the cardiologist and actor could reflect on their behaviour and how they handled the situation, giving them the opportunity to analyse and improve as the conversations continued.
The videos were incredibly powerful, and the cardiologists involved said it gave a real insight into how to handle confrontation and how they can improve in their own scenarios moving forward. The sessions were praised by delegates for directly facing difficult topics and helping others to focus on the ‘softer-skills’ required for their roles, which are rarely taught and are essential for a high-functioning team.
The difficulty Millbrook and other PCO’s have experienced throughout the pandemic is how to take a three-day programme and create an engaging online experience with over 100 hours’ worth of content. Millbrook understands that people don’t have the same attention span for online-only events, but there was still so much to discuss that would be of high value to delegates. Originally, Millbrook was going to reduce the amount of content on offer and have live content over three half-days. However, there had been no education for a year, and so much had changed that Millbrook quickly realised the three days would be essential.
In total there were three tracks of content; one track was live, and the others were available on-demand. In addition, there was an exhibition hall, social media wall, chat forum, treasure hunt and much more. It was a risk to include so much information, but it was a risk that most certainly paid off, as Millbrook saw with the outstanding feedback received. The format allowed delegates to focus on the content they needed most, and the variety kept delegates engrossed.
Dr Gavin Galasko, ACI delegate and consultant cardiologist at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said:
“I don’t normally spontaneously volunteer feedback, but can I just say I thought ACI was excellent this year and that the virtual experience ran brilliantly.
“I thought it worked well and all the chairs did a brilliant job running each session virtually. I really enjoyed it. Well done everyone involved.”
Dr Shrilla Banerjee, chair of Women in Interventional Cardiology Focus Group and consultant cardiologist, added:
“Amazing three days! Thank you @MillbrookMed for transforming our #BCISACI meeting to a virtual platform to allow us to discuss important areas such as bias, INOCA, training issues, TAVI, stroke thrombectomy, OOHCA, trial data and Women in Interventional Cardiology!”
Dr Lavinia Gabara, cardiology fellow, commented:
“Fantastic news! #BCISACI has really taken things to another level.
“In addition to clinical up-dates and fantastic cases, sessions focused on ‘soft skills’, bullying, sexism and WIC…and I am still exploring! I think all cardiologists should check it out!”
Plus, on the first day of BCIS ACI, Science Pulse, a social listening tool designed to bridge the gap between journalists and scientists within social media platforms, tweeted that the top hashtags used by the scientific community in English tweets in the last 12 hours had been #COVID19, #BCISACI, #SARSCOV2, #EARTHDAY2021.
In addition, the more immediate impact of ACI Virtual Experience 2021 conference is shown by the analytics offered within the e-conference platform:
The adoption rate was particularly impressive. For many attendees, the conference registration is included within their annual subscription to BCIS and all content would be available on-demand after the event. With other ‘free’ e-conferences, Millbrook has seen an average of 50% adoption rate for a variety of reasons. To see such a high adoption rate is testament to the content included and promised to attendees within the lead up the event.
The ACI Virtual Experience 2021 also made history within BCIS for having the first ever all female panel discussing a session. Over the years, there had been many all-male panels, and over-representation of men within the faculty, but last year, ACI was different. Whilst there are far fewer women working within interventional cardiology than men, the programme group worked hard to ensure there was female representation across all sessions and including prominent roles within the conference.