What do healthcare professionals (HCPs) really think about virtual medical education?

Written by Alice Carter on Wednesday 2nd December 2020

2020 has been a year of incredible transformation in the pharmaceutical industry, and COVID-19 has affected us all in both our personal and professional lives. In a pre-COVID working world, international travel to attend major medical congresses was routine for both industry and medical professionals, and a large proportion of medical education and training programmes were delivered face-to-face. Now, our focus has shifted to virtual medical education, with congresses and standalone meetings entering the digital space. In recent months, HCPs have been under extreme pressure, and clinical practice has had significant adjustments across all specialties and therapy areas. Considering this changing environment and shifting priorities, how can we create deep, meaningful and lasting connections in a virtual world, and what can we learn from our experiences so far?

OPEN Health have conducted two surveys to gather feedback from HCPs on their experiences with virtual medical education and congresses.

HCP feedback on virtual medical education and preferred formats

The first survey involved HCPs across Europe and the USA who had accessed virtual medical education.
Participants were asked to list their preferred formats for receiving medical education and explain which aspects they had found most useful and what could be improved to further support their clinical practice in the future.

The respondents’ preferred formats for receiving medical education were webinars and podcasts, closely followed by virtual congresses and industry-sponsored events, such as standalone meetings. These formats eliminate the need to travel and provide HCPs with the opportunity to continue their professional development and learn remotely, on their own terms, around their busy schedules. Indeed, participants cited flexibility, accessibility and convenience as core advantages of virtual medical education.

When asked what areas of medical education could be improved, HCPs would like more opportunities for interactivity, at both peer-to-peer and learner-to-presenter levels. Interactivity should be considered as a key component of virtual medical education, and should be woven into programmes to offer HCPs the opportunity to actively contribute, discuss and reflect on their learning. A virtual platform should also be selected based on its ability to integrate interactivity in a seamless way, offering Q&A, virtual networking, poll questions and quizzes. HCPs also reported that they would like the chance to provide feedback so that programmes can be continuously improved to meet educational needs.

HCP feedback on virtual congresses

A vast number of medical congresses have been held virtually for the first time in 2020 and as the industry begins to plan for 2021, virtual congresses will feature heavily in our calendars next year as well. It is therefore important to evaluate HCPs’ experiences with virtual congresses in order to optimise future events.

Virtual congresses were the focus of the second survey, which was completed by 10 HCPs who had attended two major virtual events in 2020:; the annual meetings of the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) and the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

The respondents suggested that the interactivity of congress sessions could be enhanced, and that the chat functionality could be improved to increase the opportunity for virtual networking among delegates. The session format was also highlighted as an area that could be improved with the inclusion of more varied presentations in the form of video or animated summaries capturing key data and highlights from virtual congresses.

Furthermore, HCPs would like more virtual medical education content to be recorded and made available on demand following a live webinar or virtual congress which would allow HCPs to watch sessions that otherwise would have been missed due to other commitments. Content should be provided in concise, bite-sized chunks following the live event and should be updated regularly, which would enable HCPs to visit and re-visit content to extend and reinforce their learning experience.

Our recommendations

There are several recommendations for the optimisation of virtual medical education and congresses as we move into 2021 based on HCPs’ experiences and perspectives on activities produced this year:

  • Interactivity and accessibility should be prioritised
  • Virtual medical education should be made available on demand to enable HCPs to continue their learning at a time and place that suits them
  • Ideally, content should be available in a multi-channel way (i.e. webinars and podcasts) to allow HCPs to pick a format that suits them best
  • Provide a platform where HCPs can have meaningful conversations and network with peers

In our next blog, we will be exploring tips and tricks on how to have effective conversations virtually.

Are you planning your virtual activities for 2021 and not sure which way to go? We are your partner to show you a clear path forward. 


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