It took a while for the meetings industry to accept that virtual programs wouldn’t cannibalize the audience for face-to-face events, but eventually people came around, and today the conventional wisdom is that virtual complements face-to-face. But that doesn’t mean virtual meetings aren’t a necessity for some attendees.
Take lab workers. A 2016 salary survey conducted by Medical Laboratory Observer shows that the average take-home pay for laboratory professionals suffered a year-over-year decrease of more than 11 percent. Yet even as these health-care professionals are garnering less money, they’re still expected to earn plenty of continuing-education credits. The number varies by state and accrediting organization, but Emily Berlin, director of strategic marketing and business development for Cardinal Health, estimates that most lab professionals need between 10 and 15 CE credits each year. “Two of the primary challenges in this profession,” Berlin said, “are labor shortages and budgetary constraints.”
That’s where programs like Cardinal Health’s labXchange come in. The free, virtual-only experience debuted last year with live lectures, product demonstrations, and panel discussions. The more than 1,700 medical laboratory professionals who attended could earn up to 12 CE credits.
That first program was structured similarly to a typical face-to-face conference — as a three-day live event, presented on June 9–11, 2015. But for many lab professionals, spending that much consecutive time even at a virtual event can feel impossible, because there are no other team members to pick up the slack. According to the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences, labs in the United States need to fill more than 7,000 positions each year, but only about 6,000 qualified laboratory professionals graduate annually.
Armed with that realization, Berlin and her team worked with production partner LabRoots to make adjustments for labXchange 2016, which kicked off on June 7–8. This year’s event aims to better accommodate attendees’ schedules. Each month through September, they can participate in a two-day live event, with lectures focused around a specific topic on July 12–13, Aug. 9–10, and Sept. 13–14. If attendees can’t be part of the live dialogue, they still can take advantage of the learning opportunities; all content is available in an on-demand package through the end of September.
“The virtual event provides flexibility with schedules, but is still somewhat limiting during the work day,” Berlin said in an interview before labXchange 2016 launched. “To overcome that challenge, we are providing expanded opportunities for viewing this year.”
From changes in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement to best practices for vaccine storage, the agenda includes the trends and topics that are affecting lab professionals. Organizers have also added a Poster Hall featuring 12 research presentations from lab students, with the ability to send questions to the authors via email. The exhibit hall facilitates real conversations, too. A chat function allows attendees to submit questions and discuss products in real-time with supplier representatives in their booths.
“We expect the demand for this kind of education will grow because of the flexibility and convenience it provides attendees,” Berlin said. “Because it’s virtual, they can reach their CE requirements at no cost to them while learning about new products from suppliers and viewing demonstrations, all on their own time.”
Attendees aren’t the only ones enjoying the learn-from-anywhere model. Many presenters and panelists are on the bandwagon, too. “In the future, biomedical conferences are going to go virtual one way or another,” said Brian R. Jackson, M.D., vice president and chief medical informatics officer for ARUP Laboratories. Jackson has been a speaker at other LabRoots virtual conferences, and he sums up his praise for the format this way: “No travel, no hassle, high impact — the ideal combination.”
Crossing the Virtual Finish Line
Lab professionals are doing more than learning online. During this year’s Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, which ran from April 24–30, ASCLS organized a Virtual 5K Run to unite lab professionals around the country. Participants received runner bibs before the race began and finisher medals after the week concluded. Rather than having a set time and date, runners completed their personal 5K courses on their own schedules throughout the week. A dedicated Facebook discussion group gave runners opportunities to post their times and share photos from the race. The event sold out, and proceeds funded travel scholarships for new members of ASCLS along with education and research.
For information about Digital Event Strategist (DES) certification, news about virtual and hybrid events, educational opportunities, a resource directory, and more, visit PCMA’s Virtual Edge Institute at virtualedgeinstitute.com