How to Migrate From a Traditional Live Congress to a Hybrid or Totally Virtual Congress? A Case Study

By Alvaro Margolis, MD, MS, FIAHSI 

The 7th Latin American Congress of Peritoneal Dialysis, scheduled on March 27-28, 2020, in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, provides an example of successful integration of online and face-to-face activities in their original design and their subsequent migration to a totally virtual Internet-based event when the COVID-19 epidemic emerged. 

This experience may be useful for leaders and organizations that are defining how to act in 2020 in the face of the current situation with regard to both the uncertainty of scheduled live events depending on how the epidemic unfolds1 and to the attendance of invited speakers and convened participants once live events are allowed to happen. Moreover, many are challenged with engaging limited attention spans posed by live videoconferencing for long periods over several days in different time zones as a substitute for face-to-face events. 


The concept of extended congress is the extension in time, space and languages of a medical congress. For example, a successful conference in rheumatology or infectious diseases in the United States could be extended in:

  • Space: to reach a larger audience who would not normally go to that conference, including domestic and international participants
  • Time: to allow those attendees and those who did not attend to acquire new knowledge and validate it with colleagues, compared to an usually packed and intensive live and mostly didactic program
  • Languages: allowing to those who do not speak English to participate in it, with subtitled lectures and discussion forums in their own languages 

In this case, there was interest by the organizers of the 7th Latin American Congress of Peritoneal Dialysis to implement a hybrid model, with the usual live conference happening on March 27-28, 2020 in Colombia, and the extended congress, from March 23 to May 10.2 

The extended congress was organized by the Colombian Society of Nephrology and endorsed by the International Society of Peritoneal Dialysis and the Latin American Society of Nephrology. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, the live event on the specified date had to be cancelled, so the scientific program and activities became all virtual.

The target audience were Spanish-speaking physicians and nurses who managed patients undergoing peritoneal dialysis or had interest in the subject. The extended congress included one introductory week, with discussion and voting of submitted papers and posters. There was a live opening webinar during this first week, but most of the activities were designed to be asynchronous (such as watching lectures, performing clinical simulations and participating in discussion forums), not requiring a specific date and time to participate. Several Portuguese and English speakers were subtitled into Spanish. Networking was supported by a Facebook-like platform, where relationships were taken into account to strengthen trust and foster a significant dialogue among participants.3 

The participants by country showed a wide distribution, as expected theoretically, because of the lack of boundaries for participation for internet-based programs: 702 participants came from 21 countries, mostly Latin America, Spain and Portugal, and the majority were from Mexico (144), Argentina (114), Costa Rica (92), Peru (76), Chile (55), Ecuador (38) and Colombia (38). 

With this example and a long-standing history of online educational activities4, EviMed is currently designing similar programs in the United States, in association with the University of Virginia CME Office, under the leadership of Dr. Jann Balmer. 

Discussion and Conclusions 

Since annual conferences are a main source of revenue for most scientific societies, in usual times they would find these ideas threatening, because any changes to the status quo could potentially damage the financial health of the organization. But, these are not ordinary times. 

An important element in crisis management is to find an alternative to the status quo in order to deliver quality education and opportunities to network for healthcare professionals. The intensive use of videoconferencing as a quick substitute for live events is not the best solution, because attendees cannot be expected to sit in front of a computer for hours and days, especially since they are participating from different time zones. Therefore, other educational models should be tested. 

Upcoming Webinar

Join your fellow Alliance members for a free upcoming webinar that takes a deeper dive into this case study. 
Tuesday, April 21 | 2 p.m.-3 p.m. ET | Register Now
Speakers: Alvaro Margolis, MD, MS, FIAHSI and Jann Balmer, PhD, RN
The presenters will show an example of the integration of online and face-to-face activities in their original design and their subsequent migration to a totally virtual interactive congress over seven weeks when the COVID-19 epidemic emerged.


Alvaro Margolis, MD, MS, FIAHSI, is an internist with a master's degree in Biomedical Informatics from the University of Utah. He is president of the Global Alliance for Medical Education (GAME), associate editor of Applied Clinical Informatics (an official IMIA Journal) and founding member of the International Academy of Health Sciences Informatics. He is the president and CEO of EviMed, a CME company that works across the Americas.


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