20th International Conference on Integrated Care - Virtual
The International Foundation for Integrated Care (IFIC) is a not-for-profit educational network that crosses organisational and professional boundaries to bring people together to advance the science, knowledge and adoption of integrated care policy and practice. The Foundation seeks to achieve this through the development and exchange of ideas among academics, researchers, managers, clinicians, policy makers and users and carers of services throughout the World. The Foundation’s goal is to provide a unique forum in which to bring these various perspectives together, with the ultimate aim of improving the experience of care for patients, their families, and communities, while improving the overall effectiveness of health and care systems.
Every year the Foundation runs the International Conference on Integrated Care to further their goal of bringing this diverse network together. In 2020 the 20th International Conference on Integrated Care (ICIC20) was due to take place in Šibenik, Croatia from 27 – 29 April. Abbey Conference & Events was the dedicated professional conference organiser for this event.
Developments at a global stage countries due to COVID-19 at the beginning of March, and the resulting individual as well as organisational policies implemented around travel restrictions meant it seemed more and more unlikely that there would be a viable number of delegates able to travel to the conference by 27-28 April. On behalf of IFIC and our hosts, it was vital to put the safety of delegates and speakers as our priority and therefore it was suggested to refocus our efforts towards the organisation of a virtual conference.
Our approach focused on stakeholder engagement and ensuring that stakeholders remained part of the journey. The IFIC SMT had many bi-lateral meetings with key stakeholders, including partners from across Europe with intelligence relating to policy developments around COVID-19. Meetings were held with IFIC Hubs, sponsors, SIG Leaders, and partner organisations to get a sense of their commitment to a virtual conference. A Feasibility Study was prepared and presented to the IFIC board and plans were discussed with the local host in Croatia.
With all above stakeholders on board, the conference was confirmed to go virtual during April 2020.
All hurdles were overcome by taking advantage of unexpected opportunities and adding value to stakeholders’ experiences.
A technological platform that could deliver an engaging and interactive conference experience was required. After considerable research of options available, we chose Events Air by On Air, a functional virtual conference platform that replicated many of the physical conference experiences such as networking, while also including technological additions such as live polling. Demonstrations were provided to IFIC, the local host, and the organising committee to ensure their satisfaction with the platform, and it was agreed to proceed with it.
As a small, not-for-profit foundation, a financially-sustainable conference was essential to the IFIC. The move to a virtual conference raised questions regarding the price of the registration fee, such as whether it should remain the same as the physical conference, and if not, should refunds be provided to delegates who did not want to participate in a virtual conference.
Following discussion with all stakeholders, it was agreed to introduce a lower, virtual registration fee. Delegates who had registered and paid for the physical event were moved to the virtual conference and offered a voucher for the difference in price, which can be used for any of the future two ICIC conferences. In communicating the change of fee, the additional value provided to delegates through the virtual conference was highlighted; namely the inclusion of over 100 sessions with over 150 hours of content available to delegates to access either live or following the event via session recordings.
As such, delegate satisfaction was ensured through the refund in kind and the increase in value through access to content.
A packed programme was planned for the physical conference, with over 300 speakers confirmed over 3 days. Considering the conference audience would be directly and heavily involved in treating the Covid-19 pandemic, their availability was carefully considered and the conference format adapted accordingly. It was decided to split the conference over 4 days during September 2020, with each day structured around a specific theme. This avoided an unwelcome burden being placed on delegates’ availability.
As the abstract submission process was completed for the physical conference and all speakers were confirmed, the programme remained quite extensive. A plenary session and up to 11 parallel sessions were held twice a day, while additionally, a daily networking session was included along with several SIG and HUB Meetings conducted. Existing content value for delegates was thereby ensured, and increased by the additional content.
The engagement and involvement of two key stakeholders; delegates and patients, was identified as a key objective of the virtual conference. With the travel and accommodation costs associated with physical conferences eliminated, an opportunity to secure greater involvement from both groups of stakeholders arose.
Delegate engagement was enhanced through the technological platform. All session content was made available to watch back at any time on the portal, thereby evolving the virtual conference to act as a knowledge platform. Additional networking opportunities were provided through the Meeting Hub provided, facilitating an increase in networking not generally available at a physical conference.
Patient engagement was increased through a complimentary registration pass made available by IFIC to all carers and patients. Patients were involved in the conference through several patient-centred sessions, while the Opening Plenary of the conference included a video entitled Voices of Lived Experience which showed interviews with several patients/carers about their experience around Covid-19.
Sponsorship and Exhibiting
With potential sponsors and exhibitors accustomed to physical conferences, and virtual conferences a relatively new concept, discussions were held to decide how to maintain our partners’ involvement as well as conveying the advantages of the virtual platform.
With travel costs eliminated for staff to man stands, it was possible for IFIC to provide more visibility to partner organisations, IFIC Hubs, course information, etc. These organisations were given the opportunity to host a complimentary virtual stand.
We redesigned the Partner Proposal brochure to include new virtual sponsorship and exhibition packages, clearly outlining the benefits of the virtual offering to stakeholders including delegates, patients, and sponsors. We secured a number of sponsors and exhibitors for the event and feedback has been very positive.
Due to its significant investment in the conference, it was important that the host country, Croatia, retained visibility throughout it. It was agreed to set up a studio in both Croatia and Ireland from where we would live broadcast all plenary sessions. A Croatian chair and an IFIC chair was assigned to all plenary sessions accordingly. Talks from the Mayor of Zagreb and several Ministers of the Ministry of Health were pre-recorded in the Croatian Studio and broadcasted during plenary sessions. Croatian videos were played at the start of the plenary sessions and further videos were made available as on demand sessions during lunchtimes. This ensured publicity for the host country, thereby creating a return on its investment.
The expected delegate numbers for the conference held in Croatia was approx. 700-800 delegates, while the virtual conference exceeded this to reach 1,075 delegates registered. We retained the same number of speakers and sessions as originally planned, however delegates were delivered higher value through being able to watch back recordings of all sessions. Due to the virtual setting, the conference had more exhibitors, thereby allowing its partner organisations more visibility, while there were more networking sessions than a generally held during a physical conference, thereby facilitating further professional connections than normal.