RSNA 2020: a mix of convenience and challenges

The Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) Annual Meeting is the biggest and one of the most important meetings for radiologists in the world. In May 2020, RSNA decided to host this year’s meeting in an all-virtual format due to the Covid-19 pandemic, making it the first RSNA online annual meeting.

In a traditional setting, the RSNA annual meeting is held in Chicago and usually attracts about 54.000 attendees who come from approximately 137 countries. Transforming the meeting concept to a fully virtual meeting not only influenced the amount of participation, but also the way attendees interacted with the presenters and exhibitors.  RSNA 2020 took place from November 29th to December 5th.

Highlights at RSNA 2020

The theme of RSNA 2020 was Human Insight/Visionary Medicine. Focusing on the latest information and technology in digital imaging, RSNA 2020 featured lectures given by the experts in the imaging field and exhibitor presentations with live Q&A. AI Showcase exhibitors offered state-of-the-art artificial intelligence (AI) solutions via a virtual collection of AI software and product demonstrations. There was also an Innovation Theater which showed 15-minute on-demand presentations where attendees could learn about new products and solutions in imaging.  Another unique feature of this year conference was the Industry Hour, where attendees could interact with the virtual exhibitions and participate in industry presentations to learn about the latest research and innovations each day from noon to 2 p.m. (CT). Lunch & Learns, beginning at 12:30 p.m., offered panel discussions, virtual demonstrations, and/or lectures with company leadership and medical professionals. Indeed, the meeting was very well organized with lots to offer participants.

The online RSNA meeting enabled attendees to save money in travel and accommodation costs, and it was easy to get engaged in the learning programs as much as the attendees wanted–even in their pajamas! And since all the recorded presentations were available shortly after the event ended, it was much more convenient and flexible in many ways. Everything seems good. So, what was the challenge? The challenge came from the perspective of the exhibitors in terms of the ability to effectively interact with the attendees.

In addition to having access to the full slate of RSNA programs, attendees were also able to interact with the virtual exhibits. In the virtual exhibits, there were options to chat live with the booth staff between 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (CT), request a meeting, and drop a business card. Additionally, an online networking platform was provided in which individuals could chat and schedule a private meeting.  Despite all of those connection options, there really was less interaction overall than in a traditional in-person format. Interaction in the live chat was reduced and also there were a bunch of no-shows in the organized individual meetings. Some might say these challenges were to be expected, which may be true. However, would we experience these issues if exhibiting at an in-person congress? While the online format may have benefitted conference attendees, it was not nearly as beneficial for exhibitors; it seems that face-to-face interaction is necessary for sparking that essential human connection between companies and potential clients.

Until we overcome all the challenges, it’s unlikely that virtual meetings and conferences will replace in-person events once life returns to “normal.”

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