My father loves to attend the Cheltenham horse racing festival every year. The meeting, which is one of the biggest on the horse racing calendar is a celebration of Irish Horse racing that takes place in the UK and draws a crowd of over 200,000.

As he has got older, the hectic pace of the meeting, the queues for the toilets and the physical toll of socialising have become too much for him. So he now attends the festival virtually, from the comfort of his sitting room  – watching it on TV with a few friends at home. He gets to sleep in his own bed, places his bets on the phone and the queue for the toilets is a lot shorter. My mother also ensures that the facilities are better maintained.

We refer to it as ‘Cheltenham in Galway’

This year I’ve decided to do something similar for our big Annual Specialty Meeting as I have decided not travel to Washington. I’m going to do the ‘ACR in Galway’.

Although my main reason for not attending this year relates to work commitments, I’m beginning to wonder about the value of attending the big blockbuster medical meetings in general. There’s too much information (poorly filtered), so many delegates that the social value of the meeting has become diluted, and as I get older I’m less well able to handle jet lag.

Either way, this year I’ll be attending the ACR virtually, in my dressing gown, from the comfort of my home office. I’ll be dipping in and out of the meeting during the day, after the kids have gone to bed in the evening and before I go to work.

I have a copy of the abstract book on my desktop, I have set up a list of all the rheumatologists I know who will be tweeting, following the hashtag for the meeting (#ACR2012) and will be looking at RSS feeds from trade press so I don’t miss anything.

Of course I’ll miss the annual review course, I won’t hear hear experts drill down into their subspecialty areas or meet my rheumatology friends face to face. However, I’m unlikely to miss any of the big news of the meeting. If I’m so inclined, videos of most of the important presentations will be available for review online after the meeting.

Although it is not the same as attending a meeting in person, I’m beginning to get a taste for what it might be like to attend a meeting virtually. Imagine it – less time off work, less cost, no flights, jet lag and all from the comfort of your home / office.

That’s why I was fascinated to see that our colleagues in radiology have been allowing delegates, for a registration fee of $300, to attend the RSNA meeting virtually this year. They offer access to 40 live streaming courses, allow delegates to participate in ‘Cases of the day’ and earn up to 78.5 CME credits.

Here’s hoping that other meeting organisers take note…


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