Julie Kirst, Editor

For many of you, you’ll hardly have time to digest your turkey dinner before you’ll be packing your bags and heading to the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) show in Chicago.

With more than 2,000 events planned, RSNA offers an opportunity to hear keynote speakers and learn about the latest scientific research in clinical radiology. Besides seeing old friends and making new ones, attendees will find education exhibits, refresher courses, and informatics demonstrations.

Following on its heels, and more closely aligned with our readers, is the 29th North Carolina Biomedical Association Symposium at the Pinehurst resort, December 3 through December 5. Vendor exhibits and classes covering IT, management, and general biomedical topics represent some of the offerings that draw members of the profession.

But what about those who would like to attend these shows but don’t have the time or budget to do so? In a recent poll on this Web site, 90.9% of the respondents said trade shows enhance their work. One solution on the horizon is the “virtual” expo.

In May, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) held its first HIMSS Virtual Conference & Expo, and more than 2,200 health care professionals and exhibitors attended online. On November 6 to 7, it held its second virtual conference.

No slouch, it’s a fully interactive event that incorporates online learning, live chat, active movement in and out of exhibit booths and sessions, vendor presentations, and contests.

According to Carla Smith, HIMSS executive vice president, convenience and instant response are two of the most relevant benefits to a virtual show. “This event allows them to be at their jobs or at home and access the sessions and exhibit floor when it works for them,” she says. “The speakers and exhibitors are online as well and can respond to questions.”

Smith added that feedback has been positive. “We found that attendees appreciated the flexibility of the sessions and the ability to interact with the speakers and exhibitors. For our first conference, 87 percent of those who completed our post-conference evaluation said that they had never attended an online conference before.” She added that among attendees, 82% said they were planning to attend November’s event.

HIMSS makes the conference information available on its Web site (www.himssvirtual.org) for 90 days after the conference closes, and the exhibits are open for 30 days following the conference.

Is this a wave of the future? I think it’s a good move, and just as teleconferences have created more learning opportunities, so can virtual conferences. Can—and should—they replace the regular shows? Smith says no. “We are trying to vary and expand our educational offerings so that we have opportunities available more frequently. The in-person interaction at our annual conference is valuable to everyone involved.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Julie Kirst