Going Virtual: ASNR Annual Meeting Embraces a New Best Practice

By Sharon Breske

As many professional imaging societies consider how – or even if - to move forward with their annual meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Society of Neuroradiology (ASNR) has embraced going virtual for its 2020 conference. Shifting from an in-person event to an online setting was challenging in some respects but has opened new windows to a virtual world of opportunity for attendees and hosts alike.


 “It bears mentioning that whatever sacrifices we’ve made don't come close to the sacrifices by the health care providers that have been taking care of patients with COVID-19.” added, Joshua Hirsch, MD, FACR, FSIR, FSNIS, Vice Chair of Procedural Services and Service Line Chief of NeuroInterventional Radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital; the ASNR Program Chair and President-Elect.

The meeting (#ASNR20) launched with great promise; sponsorships, exhibitorships were among areas poised to shatter prior records.  Abstracts were up 30% year over year.  For the first time this year, ASNR put out a call for late-breaking abstracts with fantastic results.   About six months into its efforts, ASNR realized that a physical meeting in Las Vegas would face some unexpected barriers. Colleagues in Asia and Southeast Asia would face challenges traveling to the United States for a meeting due to the growing impact of COVID-19.  The pandemic’s devastation then hit Italy, home to a large contingent of invited speakers, followed by Spain and beyond.

“I have to say that the embrace of this meeting was terrific, and we were looking at setting all kinds of records,” says Dr. Hirsch. “There were more people involved in this meeting than ever before.   As a result, right up until March our outstanding meetings team were forced to go back on multiple occasions to the venue asking for more space.  It really had all the makings of an epic success.”

For the live meeting, ASNR had aimed to match its record of about 2,300 attendees at the 50th anniversary meeting in New York City in 2012.  “Going virtual was unchartered territory and we were genuinely uncertain what the final registration numbers would look like. The great news is that instead of decimating numbers, going virtual has allowed the society to surpass even that original lofty goal – by far”, Dr. Hirsch says.

“The reg numbers have been staggering, which I think offers a lot of lessons for meeting planners and societies and was something well beyond even my own wildest expectations,” he says. “With 36 hours to go to the event, we are well over 3,800 registrants right now – that’s right -- 3,800. And I don’t think that's an accident. ASNR has been extremely diligent in its outreach to groups that never would have had the opportunity to participate before.”

As a first step, ASNR informed all those that registered or had signed up for exhibits or sponsorship opportunities that should they so wish, the society would provide a 100% refund. ASNR then made an organized effort to share the benefits of the virtual meeting approaching exhibitors and sponsors with a variety of packages.  “One of the things I’m absolutely proudest of is that some of the sponsors that have come along for the virtual meeting are brand new this year – they've never been at an ASNR meeting before.  That reflected on the many months of relationship building and newfound appreciation that companies had of the outstanding proposition partnership with the society.” 


ASNR saw this as an untested but nonetheless legitimate opportunity to expand its reach.  They thus sent personalized messages to worldwide leaders of Neuroradiology societies, international attendees, generalists and members in training that under normal circumstances would have difficulty making a live event.  Dr. Hirsch says that he “was inspired to see the ASNR meeting highlighted by the Singapore Radiology Society—which had not been party to specific outreach.  Perhaps most importantly, the success attracting residents bodes well for future interest in Neuroradiology as a subspecialty.”

Registration prices were adjusted to attract attendees to the virtual venue. “We did a lot of specific, and what I would consider exciting, things like making the meeting available at a very reduced price,” he says. “And even though registration was meant to be a fairly nominal price, when you’re thousands of people over what you expect, that becomes a meaningful contributor to the meeting’s bottom line.”

Themed “Betting on Breakthroughs,” the 58th ASNR annual meeting runs May 30 to June 4, and features 1,000-plus lectures and ePosters, COVID-19 seminars, a weekend stroke symposium, and ample networking and exhibitor opportunities. It also offers more than 90 hours of CME and SA-CMA credits, which will remain available after the meeting until September 1, says Dr. Hirsch.

“As people consider how you can get potentially 38 credits live or 90 credits over a three-month period, there's likely going to be a lot of opportunity for thinking about how ASNR and other societies conduct meetings going forward when it's not because of a sledgehammer named COVID, but because this is a new best practice.  My guess is that future in-person meetings will consider including a virtual component,” says Dr. Hirsch.

As for the response to going virtual, it has been favorable overall, he says. “There were people who were, let’s say, skeptical, because it's such a new venture and others have struggled with it, but I'm delighted that the board supported this decision. It’s clear here that there is going to be a need for considering the power of this cyber platform going forward.”

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Going Virtual: ASNR Annual Meeting Embraces a New Best Practice.  Appl Radiol. 

By Sharon Breske| May 29, 2020

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Sharon Breske

Sharon Breske

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