pic_figlin_okRemember when virtual meetings were the figment of some webmaster’s imagination? Many attendees at the 2016 meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) remember sessions not much more than a few years ago where we picked up thick books of abstracts and related material that everyone carried around to various sessions. This was before technological advances like the flash drive and other novelties created the virtual meeting revolution, a parallel universe, so to speak, that has not only become a huge benefit of ASCO but other medical meetings as well.

If you missed this year’s meeting—or even if you attended—there are abundant resources available, enabling you to review or keep pace with nearly all of the presentations and selected sessions. Although much of the technology that supports virtual meeting tools is not new, the underlying  software  and infrastructure are maturing quickly, in some cases allowing medical education to benefit from real-time interaction for remote programs as well as offering new opportunities for traditional, residential education.

Although the actual experience of ASCO is hard to duplicate—even with advances in virtual meeting presentations—the online offerings, not only from ASCO but from other sources as well, are a tremendous asset for following new information. On the ASCO website the Virtual Meeting grants you full access to every session—you can watch and listen to more than 150 captured sessions on your computer, tablet, or mobile device. As ASCO promotes its service: “Virtual Meeting is the next best thing to being at the 2016 Annual Meeting in person, and without travel expense or time away from work.”

But virtual analyses based on presentations at the ASCO meeting are not limited to what’s on the ASCO website. If you want quick synopses of new developments, you can benefit from the Oncology Business Review (OBR) offerings. If you visit this website, %20Cancer, you may find my discussions useful regarding the impact of recent approvals of two new drugs for renal cell carcinoma (RCC)—lenvatinib and cabozantinib.  These brief yet illuminating tutorials provide a rapid (about 60 seconds in some cases) overview of considerations underlying the use of these agents within the treatment algorithm for RCC. OBR provides similar information on other cancers as well as part of a broad spectrum of offerings.

What’s on the horizon for virtual meetings and interactive initiatives? Consider  the idea recently announced in June by the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC). The ACCC unveiled a virtual community for Oncology Care Model (OCM) practices to share tips, tools, and resources as they navigate new transformational cancer care delivery and payment models. Throughthis one-of-a-kind online platform, invited practices will gain access to need-to-know information and leading experts on trending OCM issues. The community will foster robust dialogue and provide extensive peer-to-peer learning opportunities.

The online community is part of the ACCC OCM Collaborative, a broader effort to support OCM practices throughout implementation of the first oncology-specific payment reform model. The Collaborative provides a forum to share practical, how-to resources and best practices to assist in implementing and ultimately succeeding in the OCM. The Collaborative’s new virtual community platform will enable OCM participants to share their experiences, challenges, and strategies in real time, learning from one another as they implement the model. As practices sign their participation agreements, look to the ACCC OCM Collaborative in the coming months for live meetings, conference calls, and more.

As exciting and provocative as all of these online initiatives and resources are, let’s remember that we still need to attend scientific meetings in person, if possible. The exchange of ideas at the ASCO meeting and other gatherings remains the “real deal” and an invaluable experience and opportunity to exchange ideas. But virtual meetings are indeed, the next best thing to being there.

Robert A. Figlin, MD