Virtual Congress Fatigue in Healthcare. Or is it really?

Written by
Mads Krogh Petersen
Virtual Congress Fatigue in Healthcare. Or is it really?

There are several surveys and various anecdotal data indicating a growing fatigue among HCPs participating in virtual meetings and congresses. At the same time, the almost immediate shift from physical conference to fully virtual congresses has been challenging for congress organizers and healthcare companies. To add to this, the measurement of ROI congress success is being revisited after decades of partial dormancy due to a hitherto almost universal buy-in to an intrinsic positive business case of aggressive congress investments.  

A selection of 2020 key challenges and experiences as regards virtual conference include:

- Fragmented attendance as HCPs are not physically “locked” at the summit location, rather they go about “everyday work” in parallel. Thus, there is no, extended, firm time commitment on the part of the HCPs as opposed to “3 days on site in Barcelona”.

- No natural “foot fall” at a virtual congress or “running into each other” which is customary at physical event. Thus, the casual and serendipitous reconnecting does not take place at the same scale.

- Value for the HCPs is almost exclusively delivered through a fully organizer controlled virtual congress environment where the symposia can be viewed. The notion of browsing through a virtual booth congress environment is simply not as successful as a real-life congress hall, especially because the HCPs do not have to walk through the congress hall to get to the hotel and lunch.

- Organizers have spent years on perfecting the physical event experience and do not have the experiences and capabilities to do best practice digital first events. They are catching up quickly, but it has been the proverbial case of building the plane whilst flying. At the same time, the organizers have been pressured to perform financially and charge significant fees where the virtual congress product simply has not had a commensurate value.    

- Despite a general positive attitude towards virtual congresses among HCPs, they have also been picking up on the fact that volume of communication rather than quality of communication has been the hallmark of 2020. An HCP in our network called it a “digital communication bombardment.”

There are many levers to address the above challenges:

1. Interacting with rather than merely communicating to

First and foremost, it is often useful to remind ourselves that the Healthcare company and the attendees typically have very different agendas for the event – as depicted below. If the Healthcare company’s communication is centered around its own agenda, then HCPs are going to tune out and perceive your communication as part of the overall “digital communication bombardment.” And if your digital presence is oriented towards communicating to rather than interacting with the HCPs, this lack of feedback often leads to inefficient “auto communication”. Given the challenges of regulations, e.g. leveraging key online influencers or KOLs who already have a follower base can be a useful way to attain reach and lower friction in terms of amplifying dialogues on topics relevant to the agenda of the Healthcare company in case.    

Gap between agendas of the participants and the healthcare company

2. From (social) post focus to a customer flow mindset

In a crowded communication space, you may increase your communication to try to outperform competition. However, providing the right piece of content at the right time for the right HCP applies for event communication as in any other communication. We need to move from a post or channel focus to a customer flow mindset tying together all our congress touchpoints in a cohesive and tailored sequence across channels.

Sample customer flow for promotional part of the event

However, a classic challenge is that separate teams are responsible for the non-promotional part and the commercial part of the congress presence and the different digital channels have distributed ownership and thus are often somewhat uncoordinated. This inevitably adds to audience fatigue. In other words, the Customer Experience is suffering at digital events, which was also uncovered in Vertic’s digital event study. At Vertic we typically draw up the entire digital ecosystem of the events and define customer flows both within the promotional and non-promotional parts and define the interconnections for a seamless Customer Experience.

Digital Events (

3. Prioritize premium content precisely matching HCPs event goals

In a digital event, participants are typically particularly goal oriented as they multitask and navigate between the digital event activities and the tasks of their everyday professional and private lives. Accordingly, serendipitous behavior is less prevalent than in the physical event. Vertic has made innumerous games, Augmented Reality experiences, and eye-catching visual concepts to grab attention - especially targeted at the end of the day at a physical congress where HCPs are getting hangry. Unfortunately, it is a much harder and resource demanding job creating creatives that goal oriented HCPs happily stumble upon in a digital event compared to a physical event where people have spare time. That does not mean you should refrain from creating that interactive 3D booth, but rather that it should not distract you and your budget from creating relevant, world class content.

Building immersive experiences for digital events can be extremely impactful, however premium content should remain first priority.

There is global digital fatigue. But the consequence need not be “virtual congress fatigue”.

So does “fatigue” exists? Absolutely! Everyone is tired of the lack of face-to-face interactions and limitations to our whereabouts at work or leisure and that almost everything needs to take place online. And yes, some HCPs miss the days of 3 days of deep conversations and pampering at an exciting event location. However, when we analyze the results of the events with our clients and partners in 2020, the number of participants and engagement have both increased universally and significantly. We have based our digital events presence on the above principles and the very simple understanding that HCPs will engage with premium content on topics they have been looking for (need) and content which surprises them in terms of adding new angles to their existing understanding, study, and practice. Reach HCPs via customer flows and dialogue in the digital channels and your event presence performance does not need to be the victim of general digital fatigue prevalent across most parts of the globe.

Written by

Mads Krogh Petersen

President and Co-Founder

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