By ISOQOL President Joanne Greenhalgh, PhD
Dear ISOQOL Membership,
There have been many questions and concerns from the membership since ISOQOL’s announcement to officially be in-person this year at the Annual Conference. Getting to that decision was a long process, and I want to “lift the curtain” so-to-speak on decisions my fellow Board members and I have made, as well as our reasons behind them. As President, I can see that this is something we should have communicated at the time we made the Annual Conference announcement and I apologise that we did not. This is something we will be mindful of in the future.
I think we can all agree the past two years have been hard (for some more than others). We are, of course, sensitive to that and have tried our best to lead the society in a direction that is both in the best interests of the individual and the society as a whole.
In-Person vs. Virtual
The safety of our members is paramount and has been the first issue addressed every time the Board has met to decide how best to run the Annual Conference during the pandemic. If we decide we cannot meet in-person safely, then the answer is virtual regardless of the contributing factors below.
The global environment is constantly changing, and we will continue to keep an eye on vaccination rates, hospitalization rates, travel bans, and the war’s proximity to the Czech Republic. We have agreed to review our decision about the conference at regular, preplanned intervals as part of our ongoing risk assessment.
Engagement and Networking Value
In numerous surveys over the years, networking is listed as the number one reason most people attend the Annual Conference. Feedback from the previous two virtual conferences indicated that while having a virtual conference did open the door for more people to attend, many struggled to engage with the conference material since most people did not take time away from work to engage with the conference. The exception has been the poster hall, easily the most popular feature of the Virtual Annual Conference. I go into more detail about this in the hybridization section below.
Every year, the ISOQOL Board talks about potential locations for future conferences. We alternate the location of the conference between Europe and North America because approximately 40% of the ISOQOL membership resides in North America and another 40% resides in Europe. Attendance by region is typically higher in whichever region the conference is held. Coming out of the pandemic, we have discussed the likelihood of having fewer attendees than is usual from North America.
We also took into consideration how travel budgets have been impacted by global events. To mitigate this as much as possible, ISOQOL leadership voted to lower conference rates for the previous two years (2020 and 2021) in a row at the expense of operating at a loss. Luckily, our financial position has allowed us to absorb those losses with minimal impact to our long-term financial standing.
Contracts for the Annual Conference are established 2-3 years ahead of time. Every time we discuss in-person vs virtual, we discuss the impact cancellation fees will have on the society’s finances. We have been incredibly lucky both the Calgary and Prague locations were willing to move our 2020 and 2021 conferences to later years without penalty.
We strongly believe that hybrid meetings are a great opportunity to make HRQL research available to a wider audience. However, this does come at a cost. Being in-person and virtual at the same time uses the resources of two separate meetings in terms of cost, staff time and volunteer time. While we would love to make the entire meeting virtually accessible during an in-person conference, this is not logistically feasible for ISOQOL at this time without raising either registration rates or membership dues. Instead, we have chosen to take the portion of the virtual conference with the most online interaction, the digital poster hall, and retain this for future conferences. While this does come at a cost at the society, ISOQOL will absorb these costs and in-person registration rates, as well as membership dues, will be unaffected in 2022. Registration rates will be similar to the in-person, pre-pandemic rates.
Effect on In-Person Attendance
Whenever ISOQOL makes a change like this, we first talk to other societies who have already made the change. We discovered those who did not require digital poster presenters to attend in-person but allowed presenters to do so virtually experienced significantly lower conference attendance and consequently, extreme financial losses. Roughly 1-2% of poster attendees attended the in-person conferences, which meant those societies did not fulfill their contractual obligations with the hotels. I have learned a lot about event contracting since joining the ISOQOL Board during a pandemic. A huge part of event contracts includes a clause requiring a minimum number of sleeping rooms be filled by the event, or the society pays the hotel for its loss. This is because the hotels hold those rooms aside specifically for conference attendees.
I hope this helps answer many of your questions. These decisions were not made lightly and while I know some of you will be unable to attend, I hope to see as many as possible this October in Prague.
The International Society for Quality of Life Research (ISOQOL) is a global community of researchers, clinicians, health care professionals, industry professionals, consultants, and patient research partners advancing health related quality of life research (HRQL).
Together, we are creating a future in which patient perspective is integral to health research, care and policy.