Two event disruptions in the first week of March reveal why meetings with healthcare personnel in attendance could get slammed by the current COVID-19 outbreak.
First, the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society canceled its annual Health IT Conference set for March 9-13 in Orlando. Then the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, run by the International Antiviral Society and set for March 8-11 in Boston, switched to an online event.
Some of the reasons these two groups shelved their in-person gatherings are shared by events in other industries: Bringing people together is deemed risky, organizations' travel bans make it difficult, and the fast-changing nature of the situation adds too much uncertainty. However, other reasons for the decisions are specific to the healthcare field. On March 5, HIMSS leadership explained:
There are concerns about disproportionate risk to the healthcare system given the unique medical profile of our Global Conference attendees and the consequences of potentially displacing healthcare workers during a critical time, as well as stressing the local health systems were there to be an adverse event.
This will be the first time in 58 years the event has been cancelled, but it is now clear that cancellation is unavoidable in order to meet HIMSS’ obligation to protect the health and safety of the global HIMSS community, employees and local residents, as well as for the healthcare providers tasked with keeping our U.S. and global communities healthy.
For the CROI event—ironically, a gathering of researchers and doctors who specialize in infectious pathogens such as coronavirus—IAS leadership offered a similar rationale for acting, noting among other things that “many infectious disease physicians are urgently needed to care for patients with COVID-19 in their own institutions.”
With other in-person healthcare events—corporate and association alike—that are scheduled in the near future, the reasons stated by these two organizations could become even stronger factors for cancellation, postponement, or shifting to the virtual medium as the number of coronavirus cases rises in the U.S.