Words by Kirstie Turner
Events around the world were brought to a grounding halt in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic forced us into lockdown. While some have chosen to cancel, many conferences have chosen to embrace the power of virtual, ensuring the continuation of education and collaboration.
This crisis will lead to a digital reset: a redefinition of what it means to engage with customers, face-to-face and digitally
‘Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise’ – Victor Hugo’s poignant words resonate more deeply than ever as the COVID-19 pandemic casts its ominous shadow over 2020. Faced with the introduction of lockdown measures, healthcare congresses and pharmaceutical conferences have had to contend with the reality of cancellations and postponements. But the industry has proven to be agile and adaptable, with virtual events emerging from the shadows as a beacon of hope. As the age of webinars and remote working dawns, pharma must embrace the opportunity to educate and collaborate through the power of virtual.
Earlier this year, as conferences around the world were shutting up shop, eyeforpharma Barcelona virtual 2020 opened for business. Kicking off the event, Bertrand Bodson, Chief Digital Officer, Novartis, says: “These are extraordinary times and exceptional circumstances where we are being tested in so many ways. We are fortunate to live in a space where we could do something about it; we can have a very meaningful impact, and this is a matter of public health. By coming together, we can find solutions to some of the biggest challenges happening right now in the world.” Rather than opting for the easy route by postponing to 2021, eyeforpharma was determined to adapt and continue, full-steam ahead.
It is more crucial than ever for us to be sharing knowledge and learning from one another; hosting events on virtual platforms is enabling this and is proving to be beneficial on multiple levels. Constraints such as distance and capacity are no longer barriers for delegates to attend and join the conversation. Commenting at eyeforpharma, Marc Valdiviezo, VP Strategy and Applied Digital Transformation, Indegene, says: “What an amazing turnout given the circumstances, or maybe the circumstances have actually increased the interest in connecting with your peers, and for us to collectively discuss the business implications of the current pandemic.”
As lockdown measures are becoming commonplace around the world, there is a loss of purpose and sense of isolation stirring in many. But within pharma, the community stands stronger than ever thanks to digital companies providing answers to our communication challenges during this crisis. “This epidemic is the time for digital companies to prove their worth and prove what they can do if given the opportunity. If they take advantage of that opportunity well, they have the chance to change the status quo,” says Jessica Federer, former Chief Digital Officer, Bayer.
Digital solutions, such as webinar and virtual meeting platforms, widen the possibility for collaboration and consumption of information. Elena Bonfiglioli, Managing Director, Health and Life Sciences, EMEA, Microsoft, says: “New digital experiences can help liberate time and resources creatively, shape workflows in new ways, and really help the most pressing of all needs: to provide the most urgent and best care for patients.” In a time when resources are stretched and our healthcare systems are under enormous pressure, this is absolutely critical.
Bonfiglioli reminds us that this perceived flexibility is about adopting what we already have available to us: “It’s not even about new technologies or digital solutions: it is about the vast application, at scale and at pace, of existing technologies.” These digital solutions are ready for use now.
By coming together, we can find solutions to some of the biggest challenges happening right now in the world
Healthcare congresses are a staple event in the year for many, and it has been tough to see these events cancelled. Some have chosen to go ahead virtually for now, but will the sun set on this virtual venture as quickly as it rose? Valdiviezo suggests not: “24 medical events have been delayed or cancelled just in this short window of time and I cannot imagine that large scale, medical, face-to-face conferences will be the most interesting events for doctors to attend in the near future.” Virtual events could be set to enhance, or even replace, physical events in the post-COVID world.
While we cannot predict what the world will look like on the other side of this pandemic, it is unlikely to return to ‘normal’. “We do not expect our world and, by implication, our industry, to return to a pre-pandemic scenario. No one can claim they know exactly what the future looks like, but we can explore the dynamics of what is playing out and how those dynamics will shape the future,” explains Valdiviezo. We must explore virtual avenues now, so that we are as prepared as possible for the future, whatever it may look like.
Platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, and GoToMeeting have been thriving. Bodson says: “We have moved many of our meetings to virtual and people have been surprised at how well it has worked, some even better than the physical meetings that we have had. There is plenty of application in the way we interact with doctors and with patients.” As the benefits of virtual meetings are being recognised by the industry, Valdiviezo believes: “This crisis will lead to a digital reset: a redefinition of what it means to engage with customers, face-to-face and digitally.”
We must emerge from this crisis stronger and more resilient. “I would challenge pharma to see this time as an opportunity to be better, faster, more agile, and different,” adds Federer. If you can’t get in front of your customers physically, ensure you are in front of them virtually. Federer continues: “If through these lean, mean times you can demonstrate what your core capability is, and strip back all the bells and whistles and get back to what it is you do better than anyone else, and you can do it in times of crisis, that is when you are going to win over customers who will stick with you in the long-run.”
As the world looks to pharma as a guiding light through these dark days, the industry cannot stagnate. Continued communication and collaboration must be upheld, and the adoption of virtual events provides a platform to enhance the relationships we have built in the physical world. Bonfiglioli concludes: “We are writing history: present and future history. We are doing it together, we are learning a lot about tech adoption and it is clear that technology can help liberate activities, strengthen the resilience of healthcare systems around the world and, most of all, keep us safe, with the best care possible.”
If your ability to reach audiences has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how EMG-Health can help you virtually connect with an audience of over 480,000 healthcare professionals.