I started my cardiology fellowship in 1963 at the Johns Hopkins University school of medicine after time in the laboratory of Dr. Donald Gregg at the Walter Redd Army Medical Research Institute. During my cardiology fellowship I began to attend the American Heart Association (AHA) and American College of Cardiology (ACC) annual meetings. I was also present at the early European Society of Cardiology (ESC) meetings and have attended these, the AHA and ACC annual meetings since with only few exceptions.
The annual Cardiovascular Clinical Trials (CVCT) Forum has been particularly valuable in providing informal interactions with regulators from the FDA and EMA, journal editors, statisticians, other clinical investigators and basic scientists as well as patients. These informal and often chance meetings as well as discussions after the formal sessions have led to many new ideas and have played an important role in my career as a clinical investigator.
During the COVID-19 pandemic these in-person national and international meetings have been replaced by virtual meetings. While the virtual meetings provide an opportunity to present late breaking trials, new advances, and focus sessions, they lack the spontaneity and chance meetings provided by the in-person meetings. I have begun to question the value of these virtual meetings. In view of the simultaneous presentation and publication of many major clinical trials I do not see the value of virtual presentations. Online simultaneous publication of the important major trials and advances in cardiology assures that the information has been peer reviewed. However, some late breaking clinical trials and advances in cardiology as well as data from focus sessions may appear online or in print some time later, if at all. The information from these presentations has not been peer reviewed and at times has led to misinformation and confusion. Simultaneous publication of major clinical trials and advances in the NEJM, JAMA, Lancet, EHJ, JACC, Circ or other major journals assures peer review. In view of the availability of rapid online presentations I see little if any advantage to virtual meeting presentations. The interviews, blogs and the discussions that follow the important presentations at the virtual meetings could just as easily take place after online publication with the assurance that the data has at least some degree of peer review.
There are many economic incentives for national and international societies to hold annual meetings. Participant fees and fees from industrial exhibitors help sustain many of the societies’ important activities. While there are still some economic reasons for societies to hold virtual meetings the lack of exhibitor fees has considerably decreased their economic value.
While we all wish for the end of the pandemic and the return of safe travel and in-person meetings I would prefer for now, to get information from peer reviewed online or in print presentations followed by virtual in depth discussions and blogs where appropriate to place the information in perspective. I hope that the CVCTCardiobrief blog will play a role in this process and provide an opportunity for critical discussions of clinical trials and important advances and issues in cardiology. While not replacing the excitement, chance interactions, and creativity resulting from in-person meetings, I believe it will nevertheless provide an important forum to place the major advances and issues in cardiology in perspective during the pandemic and beyond.