￼Happy or Hesitant? Perhaps a Bit of Both. Inside the Mind of a WEDI Event Director
June 15, 2022
Written by Michael McNutt
I’ve been involved in meeting, conference, and special event planning since 1994 when I helped with the opening ceremonies for the World Cup Soccer Tournament. With my knowledge of the business, I even involved myself in the planning of my own wedding (record scratch…yeah, don’t do that if you can avoid it). In 2018 I created an event, Northern Virginia’s All Star Comic Con, a comic book, and pop culture event that covered multiple days and featured celebrities, art, gaming, and music.
Whenever I’ve developed an event, conference, meeting, trade show, etc., I’ve had one primary objective- you’re going to enter the room with one idea, and leave with that idea intact, along with a dozen more. I’ve always wanted to give people more. I’ve operated with that philosophy for nearly 30 years, and that philosophy was really challenged in early 2020 when the world was held captive by the coronavirus.
As the world was coming to grips with a pandemic that still has its talons firmly entrenched in our daily lives (I’m currently typing this blog 2 days after testing positive), WEDI was concluding a 2020 Social Determinants of Health event with EHI in Washington DC and looking forward to our spring conference in beautiful La Jolla, California. As the reality crept in and more and more organizations were suspending and cancelling their events, WEDI swiftly pivoted and produced the La Jolla conference as a virtual event. For over two years, we have developed and executed virtual educational events for our members and the health care IT community.
From 2020 to today, WEDI amped up its educational catalogue, producing nearly 40 virtual events since the COVID lockdown. In 2021, WEDI offered virtual spotlights (our new name for webinars) focusing on a variety of educational elements of health IT, including health equity, information blocking, No Surprises Act, telehealth, TEFCA, prior authorization and standards & operating rules.
We are halfway through 2022, and WEDI has continued to offer virtual events that are idea-focused, foster learning and provoke conversations that matter. We’ve covered privacy & security, health equity, artificial intelligence, provider directories and the NIST Cybersecurity Framework RFI this year, with value-based care and telehealth coming this summer.
Organizations are making the difficult decisions to return to in-person education. COVID alerts and advisories are being heavily scrutinized, boards are meeting to assess feasibility and potential attendees are determining if there are any travel freezes in place. Historically high attended events are slowly coming back but are still not up to 2019 numbers. Other events might yield positive numbers but returning attendees who test positive for COVID cause an issue for employers.
There’s nothing like a live, in-person event. Does everyone remember the “NBA Bubble” Playoffs from a couple of years ago? Compare that to the current NBA Finals to see that it’s perhaps our human nature to be with each other; to talk, teach, learn, yell, laugh, and argue. Conferences are no different. We’ve all missed the networking aspect, the camaraderie, catching up with friends. I’m sure speakers appreciated a smile or nodding face in a ballroom compared to a screen of squares with names on them. Vendors can undoubtedly make a sale and press the flesh better when there’s actually flesh to press. On the other hand, virtual events offer a convenience that was sorely underappreciated. No travel, no hotel, the ability to review the recording later, all from the comfort of your home while wearing your favorite t-shirt. Even subject matter experts can better manage speaking opportunities when they don’t have to factor several days of travel. Some organizations will not allow travel to conferences, so what are we to do?
We wait. We listen to our members as best as we can. We plan and prepare for all contingencies. We prepare to pivot on a dime if needed. We’re reasonable and realistic about our expectations. We consider looking at hybrid learning, offering a unique value for those who attend live and those who are not able to.
It’s a high anxiety time, determining what to do as some conduct business as usual while others are more hesitant. WEDI is not only hosting virtual events this summer but is also returning to in-person events this August in Chicago for our summer forum. The highlight of the two-day event will be the problem solving, small groups offering attendees unique perspectives on the No Surprises Act and how new technology is ready to support age old health IT concerns. Space is limited as we are supporting social distancing, so I encourage you to sign up as soon as possible. We are also offering a virtual option that will have select sessions video recorded and available after the forum. This mixture of in-person connections with the on-demand control of a virtual event might be the wave of the future. We’ll just have to wait and see.