When Todd Hutchings launched the Ontario Hospital Association’s (OHA) virtual health-education program seven years ago – with one-camera shoots in a small conference room – he never could have predicted just how far it would go. A small nonprofit serving 154 member hospitals and hundreds more associate and affiliate members across Ontario, Canada, OHA had limited resources and an increasing need to reach out to members living far outside its Toronto headquarters.
Hutchings and his team were initially hesitant to launch into webinars. “OHA in the past had a strong history of one- and two-day face-to-face conferences, so this was stepping out of our comfort zone,” said Hutchings, OHA’s director of distance learning. “It was our membership that pushed us in this direction. …A lot of members located in the far north of Ontario had been using this videoconference technology for clinical use, and they were all over us to use it for educational offerings, recognizing the benefits from saving money to travel time.”
Upon implementing the educational videoconferences, the number of members that OHA reached doubled annually – when compared to attendance at its face-to-face events – and demand continued to grow. In 2007, OHA began using Mediasite, an event-webcasting platform offered by Sonic Foundry, expanding its reach even further. The program has since evolved into live broad- and webcasting, virtual continuing education courses, and other online resources. In 2011, OHA’s distance-learning program had more than 11,700 participants – a number it’s likely to exceed this year. “It’s worked out very well,” Hutchings said. “Today we recognize the same benefits that our members see: cost savings, one concise message they can access any time, and it’s another vehicle for feedback.”
The virtual offerings have also enhanced OHA’s in-person events and complemented its other product lines. “If you can engage your audience beyond your face-to-face, you become a more valuable resource,” Hutchings said. “People want access 24/7 to information and support. It increases exposure to your brand – they tend to look at everything your company offers, including upcoming events.”
Indeed, attendance at OHA events, both face-to-face and virtual, has increased as a result of the online exposure. OHA’s last patient-safety session had more than 400 in-person registrants, with another thousand people viewing the event online. Organizations interested in educating their staff through OHA’s programs are able to share the information with as many employees as they’d like via live or archived footage – making the true reach of the educational sessions incalculable.
“I think everybody has a different learning style and some people aren’t tech savvy, so they’re intimidated by this technology, ” Hutchings said, “but the reality is, in today’s instant-access society, if you’re not providing information online or using technology to benefit your programs, you’ll fall behind.”
Until two years ago, all of OHA’s online educational content was available for free. Now for some events, OHA has migrated to a paper-access model where attendees can sign up for a live event, pay a one-time fee, and then have access to the archives for up to six months – giving them the ability to share the information with colleagues. “As our success grew, our budgets grew, we got additional bandwidths and the ability to produce more content,” said OHA’s Todd Hutchings. “If an organization wants access to a session, they help cover the costs to produce the video, and they don’t have to send employees to Toronto, so they’re seeing the savings as well.”
Learn more about OHA’s distance-learning programs at convn.org/oha-distance. For a Sonic Foundry webcast on “The ROI of Webcasting for Associations” by OHA’s Todd Hutchings, visit convn.org/oha-webcast.