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The changing face of the investigator meeting: key trends to know

By Dominic Bemrose, Business Development Director at SWM Partners

From an increased emphasis on alternative event formats, to an enhanced focus on engagement tools as attention spans grow shorter, healthcare events have changed in more ways than one this year.

Despite this, the importance of meetings and events within the healthcare sector remains. They provide organisations with the opportunity to educate, inform, and connect with their most important audiences, while also providing a platform for delegates to meet with one another.

While there are many types of events at play within this industry, investigator meetings are one of particular importance. They are essential to the clinical trial process, and ultimately, ensuring a product is able to progress to market, and improve patient outcomes.

So, how have they evolved during rapidly changing times like these?

Delving into the format: is it in-person, virtual, or hybrid?

It is important to note that even before the pandemic, many investigator meetings were virtual in nature. This was particularly the case when they were designed for an international audience. Of course, as the pandemic became a reality, they all shifted online.

It wasn’t possible to postpone these events, due to the key information and updates that are shared. This meant creativity and agility were key, to ensure attendees not only received the necessary information, they remained interested throughout the experience.

Over the course of the year, we’ve found many attendees are eager to return to face-to-face meetings, and this is evident in the post-event feedback forms we receive, with many stating that connecting with their peers in this way was a highlight of the meeting. At the same time, companies recognise the need to cater to those who prefer to join remotely too, for myriad reasons.

The importance of catering to both audiences has, therefore, prompted the rise of an interesting trend. Some organisations are opting to ensure each and every one of their investigator meetings is hybrid, meanwhile others are of the view that events for face-to-face and remote audiences should be held separately – as this ensures no delegate is left out.

The key thing to take into account, is that there is no one size fits all approach here. The meeting’s ideal event format will be dependent on factors such as the audience and their location, the therapy area, budget, timeline, and CSR policies, among others.

Event series are on the rise, and attendee numbers are evolving

That being said, a large majority of investigator meetings we’ve worked on as an agency of late, across various corners of the globe, have more often than not adopted a hybrid format. It has been interesting, however, to see that delegate numbers vary by meeting, with attendance higher in face-to-face settings in some instances, and vice versa.

With both hybrid and purely virtual formats increasingly being chosen by companies, investigator meeting series’ are becoming more common. While the same overall information and updates are shared over the course of these meetings, they are delivered in more personalised and culturally relevant ways.

This not only means the translation of key content, study and patient materials are adjusted from a visual and layout perspective to ensure they resonate, and additional resources are created for particular regions.

The fact that more of the events are being held within a series, means that attendee numbers are sometimes lower across both in-person and virtual environments, however they are more tailored than ever before. This approach is positive, in that it helps to ensure learning opportunities are maximised, and information retained.

With sustainability at the forefront, timing is more important than ever

While practices that minimise a meeting's environmental impact should ideally be incorporated at the pre-planning stage – as supply chains play a key role here – one of the key trends we’re seeing, is that more and more organisations are also seeking to limit their carbon emissions by reducing travel.

In-person and hybrid investigator meetings are subsequently being carefully scheduled to coincide with congresses and other large-scale events that relate to the clinical trial’s therapy area. Meeting delegates where they are in this way both eliminates the need for additional travel, and complements their learnings and takeaways from the main event.

Tech tools: a key feature as standard

One of the (many) things we’ve learned from the pandemic, is that technology, when selected and utilised in strategic and creative ways, can add immense value to investigator meetings.

Key applications this year have therefore been around the use of animation sequences that translate complex scientific data into informative video content. They are increasingly being incorporated into events, as well as housed in meeting portals once they end. Polling and Q&A tools are also highly sought after, and we’ve seen firsthand how they can be leveraged to generate activity among the audience, both when it comes to asking speakers questions, and interacting with one another, across all formats.

Investigator meetings, like most events and across all industries, have changed not only as a result of the pandemic, our world is in a constant state of flux. It’s therefore important to consider these external factors, and ever-changing delegate expectations when it comes to planning, designing and managing an investigator meeting, and the educational materials and resources that are created alongside it.

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