Making the Most of Virtual AHA 2020: Keeping Focus

COVID-19 has dramatically impacted every aspect of our lives.  We have been forced to redesign both our work and professional lives to accommodate social distancing efforts to reduce virus transmission.  Therefore, the 2020 American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Sessions is a virtual program this year (1).  While we will miss the in-person aspects of a big scientific meeting, the virtual format has created new and exciting opportunities for data science communication.

As a virtual program, the information can be streamed directly to the participant’s office and workspaces, thereby broadening the range of potential attendees.  Attendance levels, marked by the number of participants registered, have the potential to exceed those able to attend in an in-person format.  For instance, earlier this year, the European Society of Cardiology had 116,000 attendees this year (2) versus roughly 35,000 per year in recent years (3).  The cost associated with travel can be significant, particularly for early career participants.  The time away from home and work may also be a factor for many, particularly those with young families.

However, the same benefit of saving time through diminished travel may also factor in the ability to concentrate while virtually attending the meeting.  If a participant maintains the same work and family schedule as normal, these competing commitments may actually diminish the experience as partial immersion may not allow for the same depth and breadth of attention.  Another unique quirk may be the competing commitment of another scientific meeting.  This was the dilemma that I faced today.  Having been invited to speak on COVID-19 and venous thromboembolism for the VEINS meeting (4), I created a two laptop and phone setup this morning to help me navigate both meetings (Figure 1).  This “command center” allowed me to simultaneously attend both and participate in those sessions in which I was most interested.  While this was a great way to participate, there are limitations in time and attention span.  A recent analysis of the American College of Cardiology meeting suggested that a virtual meeting format actually reduced social media engagement compared to the previous year (5).

Given the potential for wider dissemination of data, the virtual format has promised to reach a broader audience across the globe.  However, competing commitments and responsibilities may minimize this reach.  What can you do to maximize yield from this format and get the most out of AHA Scientific Sessions 2020?

  • Make time for your education
    • It will be impossible to concentrate on the conference if you continue to work a normal work schedule including clinical, research, or administrative responsibilities. Just as you would for the meeting, block time out for the virtual meeting so that you can dedicate your attention and focus appropriately
  • Plan out your sessions
    • The AHA Scientific Sessions has a fantastic web platform that allows for customization with the creation of a personalized schedule ( Using this tool in advance can allow a participant to plan out the sessions in which they are most interested and make sure the time is best utilized.
  • Get Engaged
    • The AHA Scientific Sessions has planned networking sessions and satellite sessions every evening between 5-8 pm CST. Take advantage of these opportunities to connect with mentors, answer questions, meet people in your council, and network with other participants
    • Follow the relevant posts on social media platforms such as Twitter (@AHAMeetings). There are social media ambassadors and virtual Co-Pilots assigned to each day (Saturday and Sunday for me).  Following these accounts can allow you to key into important sessions of interest
  • Making the Most of Virtual AHA 2020: Keeping Focus
    • One of the advantages of a virtual format is that many of the sessions are pre-recorded. This allows for playback at a later time, if necessary.  Furthermore, there is tremendous On-Demand Sessions content including many of the top oral abstracts being presented.

Above all, enjoy the convening of minds over the next few days.  The energy, innovation, and intelligence are amazing to experience.  The AHA program chairs have really created a platform to simulate the best parts of the in-person meeting in this virtual format.


  2. Enrique Gallego-Colon E, Bonaventura A, Vecchié A, Cannatà A, Martin Fitzpatrick C. Cardiology on the cutting edge: updates from the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress 2020 BMC Cardiovasc Disord.  2020 Oct 19;20(1):448.
  5. Mackenzie G, Gulati M. 20: Impact of social media at the virtual scientific sessions during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Clin Cardiol. 2020 Sep;43(9):944-948



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