Virtual #QCOR20 and the future of cardiology academic meetings

Much like many recent academic cardiology meetings, the American Heart Association (AHA)’s Quality of Care & Outcomes Research 2020 (#QCOR20) meeting took place virtually as well, owing to limitations posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Having attended AHA Scientific Sessions 2019 as an international delegate, this was both my first time attending QCOR as well as my first virtual QCOR. There was a wide range of content encompassing cardiovascular outcomes research, abstract presentations, plenary sessions and also an online interactive early career session via zoom.

So, as I logged into HeartHub (https://www.hearthubs.org/qcor ) for the sessions, in the comfort of my pajamas in a time zone a dozen hours apart, I found that the platform was rather unique, convenient and user-friendly. Talks were pre-recorded in good quality, but what really stood about the #QCOR20 format was the chat function that ran simultaneously with the ongoing talks. Completely flattening all medical hierarchies, this allowed for extensive, insightful and interactive discussions in an informal manner between speakers and attendees, irrespective of where they stood in the totem pole of medicine.  This also served to obviate some of the conventional barriers of Q&A sessions at large meetings, allowing for more questions as well as the active engagement of more junior delegates.

Additionally, Virtual QCOR registration came with on-demand access to recorded lectures as well as other available conference materials including handouts for until three months after sessions, allowing one to catch up on sessions that might have been missed.

This was particularly useful, because, that very weekend SCAI also hosted their annual scientific sessions virtually. In a parallel world, I wouldn’t have dreamed of testing my efficiency with two parallel meetings. But the effort to attending both was significantly less than usual, including financially, involved no flights, commutes or time off work, and conveniently, I could switch between windows to “pop in” to the sessions of my interest at either meeting.

Despite some of these conveniences, I found myself missing the buzz of in-person meetings: the anticipation of results of late-breaking clinical trials, discussions of live cases, interaction and camaraderie of meeting colleagues face to face from the around the world, seeing new technology in the exhibit calls and especially, coming to think of it, the downtime off work and the absolute joy of travel.

Basically, the nerd, the wanderlust, and the human in me didn’t quite agree entirely with this virtual format. But that’s personal. And while we can agree that the science and education will certainly find its way to clinicians, many of the other goals and expectations of such annual academic conferences hinges on in-person meetings. These include small-group practical education, meeting and networking with peers, sharing of experiences, and potential collaborations borne thereof, none of which can be effectively achieved by a virtual meeting. From the perspective of scientific associations, building agendas, policy-making, professional skills development, and interactions with industry are all far better achieved with face-to-face interactions.

With restrictions to air travel, dwindling economies, social distancing measures and the varying commitments of the global medical community facing different phases of the pandemic in their respective countries, there has been much discussion on the future of medical conferences. Given the current climate, delegates (especially international) may re-evaluate priorities, with considerations of finances and if in-person presence was in fact, absolutely necessary.

And as many more international cardiology meetings are successfully converted into virtual events, and many more physicians adapt to this convenient method of education, it begs the question if this indeed will be the default arrangement for the foreseeable future? Further, into the future, academic societies ought to consider the possibility of combining the best of both worlds, so to speak, with a “hybrid” format, offering the in-person meeting as well as the virtual format, thus giving delegates who might prefer it, the option of attending sessions live from the comfort of their homes.

Also, while large global meetings with thousands of delegates might survive the pandemic and transition into hybrid conferences, what of the smaller meetings? Some of these are dedicated to niche specialties for smaller audiences, offering opportunities for hands-on learning and more intimate networking with experts and mentors. Only time will tell if such smaller meetings will indeed prevail.

Virtual meetings may have sufficiently filled the void of medical education and academic discourse that occurred as a result of cancellations of in-person conferences. Part of this void has also been filled by increased interactions between peers on social media platforms, particularly twitter, with renewed importance of the role of social media ambassadors. In more ways than one, virtual meetings may even have brought the world closer, with many of us logging in at the same time from different time zones. But let’s be real: We can dissect a trial on twitter all we like, but it will never be the same as the standing room only attendance at late-breaking clinical trial sessions. Also, let us seriously spare a thought for the principal investigator presenting his/her pioneering research to a computer screen: that is nowhere near the real thing.

The impact of COVID-19 on the course of major professional meetings has been huge. While Science will always find a way to reach us, meetings are so much more than just science. The whole world is adapting to a new normal and it will be interesting to see how this pans out for the medical community.

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”


Scientific Sessions during the pandemic

I didn’t know what to expect when I logged in to the American Heart Association’s Quality of Care and Outcomes Research Scientific Sessions earlier this month but having attended I’m definitely a fan of this new virtual format. As a trainee, the largest barriers to attending conferences are usually finding the funding and arranging the time off from work. Not having to worry about missing work on Friday and the cost of a roundtrip flight and hotel for the weekend was a huge positive.

In the couple of weeks since the conference, it’s also been great having access to sessions I missed. With so much going on during the live scientific session, it’s easy to miss a lot of really interesting new research being presented. Being able to go back a couple of weeks later and look through the content has made it much more digestible and eased any fear of missing out I had.

It did take me a little bit to get comfortable navigating the HeartHub (https://www.hearthubs.org/qcor), but then again I usually get turned around at in-person conferences too. Once I was in virtual sessions, I was surprised by how interactive the chats were and how relaxed they felt. Not sure why it felt less formal than an in-person conference but “attending” while having a coffee in my living room, rather than wearing a suit in a conference room sure didn’t add any stress.

Looking forward to #AHA20 online!

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”


What to Expect at #QCOR19

As a new member of the Council on Quality of Care and Outcomes Research (QCOR), I’m excited to attend the annual Scientific Sessions in Arlington, Virginia on April 5-6, 2019. QCOR 2019 Scientific Sessions is put on in collaboration with the Council on Clinical Cardiology, the Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing, the Stroke Council, and of course, the Council on Quality of Care and Outcomes Research.

Apart from reviewing the programming and online resources, I’m not sure what to expect so I turned to QCOR colleagues and leadership who could give me the lowdown.


Key Takeaways

  • The QCOR Scientific Sessions bring together a diverse group of clinicians, researchers, and policymakers interested in healthcare quality and patient outcomes.
  • Both days of the conference are packed with dynamic workshops, early career lunches and panels, impactful plenary sessions, and opportunities for networking.
  • Early career development is a major focus of the QCOR conference, highlighted by the coveted Young Investigator Award finalist oral abstract sessions and early career panel discussions.
  • Follow along at #QCOR19 on Twitter with hashtags #CQOMeetingReport and #QCOR19 as we live tweet from the sessions.



Let me introduce Drs Madeline Sterling, Boback Ziaein, Collene McIlvennan, and Tracy Wang.

  • Madeline Sterling, MD MPH MS, (@mad_sters) is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine Division of General Internal Medicine.
  • Boback Ziaeian, MD PhD FACC FAHA, (@boback) is an Assistant Professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in the Division of Cardiology.
  • Colleen McIlvennan, DNP MS BSN (@colleenkmac) is an Assistant Professor of Medicine-Cardiology and Lead Nurse Practitioner in advanced heart failure and transplantation at University of Colorado School of Medicine, and is also the chair of the QCOR Young Clinicians and Investigator Committee.
  • Tracy Wang, MD MHS MS (@TYWangMD) is an Associate Professor of Medicine, a member of the Duke Clinical Research Institute, and Director of Health Services and Outcome Research at Duke.

Dr Colleen McIlvennan

Dr. Colleen McIlvennan


Dr Madeline Sterling

Dr. Madeline Sterling


Dr Tracy Wang

Dr. Tracy Wang


Dr Boback Ziaeian

Dr. Boback Ziaeian


What is the QCOR council all about?

In an AHA newsletter, QCOR Council Chair, Tracy Wang, presents 3 reasons to join QCOR:

  1. QCOR focuses on real world health care issues and practical solutions
  2. QCOR is disease and specialty agnostic – if you study the heart, brain, disparities, health systems, or anything else, you belong in QCOR
  3. In QCOR, you can connect with a growing community of creative, passionate, and fun people who want to influence health and healthcare delivery in a positive way

QCOR is not only a place for clinicians, researchers, and policymakers to come together for healthcare quality and patient outcomes, but is also focused particularly on early career development.

Dr Tracy Wang commented that the QCOR “council has always been proud of its diverse constituency; and [its] collaborations bring to the forefront experienced multidisciplinary teams and stakeholders who have successfully orchestrated change in our health care environment.”


Why should you attend QCOR Scientific Sessions?

Dr Madeline Sterling: There is a lot of programming geared towards early career professionals, which in my mind, makes QCOR really stand out as a ‘must attend’ conference for early investigators conducting cardiovascular outcomes research.

Dr Colleen McIlvennan: This year QCOR has six program tracks, including policy, health technology and innovation, implementation/QI/data science, cardiovascular clinical trialists forum, quality of care workshops, and Get with the Guidelines. New this year is a Design Thinking in Action workshop facilitated by Google.

Dr Tracy Wang: This year there will be a number of workshops with topics ranging from scientific publication, to advancing health care quality through collaborations with IT, to shared decision making. Plenary session topics will tackle two large and important areas for quality of care and outcomes research: the first will be on data science and health technology, the second will be on health policy and behavioral economics.


What are you looked forward to most at QCOR?

Dr Boback Ziaeian: I’m looking forward to people coming to my poster and seeing if they find the issue I report on as interesting. It’s something I’ve spent years thinking about and I’m curious how well I communicate my ideas.

Dr Ziaeian will be presenting his poster “Changes in the US Burden of Cardiovascular Mortality by Unique Weighting Methodologies” (Poster 294) at the afternoon poster session on Saturday April 6th.

Dr Madeline Sterling: Mike Thompson, PhD, Adam Bress, PharmD, MS, and I are leading the QCOR19 Career Development Luncheon. It will take place on April 5th at 12:30-2:00pm. The topic is ‘Building Bulletproof Collaborations.’ We’ve assembled some terrific panelists and table leaders to facilitate the discussion and I hope that many attendees will join for what I hope will be a dynamic and helpful session.

Dr Sterling will also be presenting her poster “Social Determinants of Health and 90 Day Mortality after Hospitalization for Heart Failure in the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) Study” (Poster 284) at the afternoon poster session on Saturday April 6th.


How does QCOR focus on early career professionals?

Dr Madeline Sterling: Not only are there special abstract award presentations to highlight the top work of early investigators, but poster sessions, luncheons, and seminars with skill building exercises geared towards early career professionals. There are sessions with journal editors, as well as talks on mentoring and collaboration.

Dr Colleen McIlvennan: QCOR has always and continues to promote early career clinicians and investigators. A major focus of the conference is early career investigation with a highly coveted Young Investigator Award as well as oral abstract and moderated poster sessions. It’s a great council to join for those starting their career.

This year’s Young Investigator Award finalists are Enrico Giuseppe Ferro from the Smith Center for Outcomes Research in Cardiology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Ali O Malik from Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, Sameed Ahmed M Khatana from the University of Pennsylvania, Ashwin S Nathan from the University of Pennsylvania, and Tran Nguyen from George Washington Hospital in Washington DC. These 5 final abstracts will present in a special oral abstract session Friday morning (10:45 am) with the winner announced at the early career development luncheon to follow.

Dr Boback Ziaeian commented on how QCOR focuses on early career professionals throughout the year, not just at the annual scientific sessions. As a member of the QCOR Young Clinicians & Investigators Committee, he spoke to the significant amount of planning that occurs year-round for QCOR members.

“The council gives a voice to early career investigators by evaluating abstract submissions, developing content for conferences, and starting initiatives for the council community.”

Dr. Colleen McIlvennan, chair of the Young Clinicians & Investigator Committee, shared that the committee works “throughout the year on the programming for the early career events at QCOR’s annual meeting as well as early career programming at AHA Scientific Sessions.”


What’s a unique aspect of the QCOR Scientific Sessions?

Compared to other AHA conferences, the QCOR Scientific Sessions is relatively short (2 days) and small. But it’s a small conference with a big impact.

Dr. Colleen McIlvennan: Although QCOR is a relatively small conference by many standards, it really offers an impressive group of speakers and attendees. The size also allows for great networking opportunities!

Dr Madeline Sterling: It’s large enough where you can network and meet new people at each meeting, but small enough where you can also have quality time to catch up with colleagues and friends. Take me for example, a few years ago I went for the first time, not knowing a single person. I left 2 days later feeling inspired with new research ideas and a whole list of contacts.

Dr Tracy Wang: The early career lunches and panel discussion provide ample opportunity for members to network, reconnect, and learn from their peers; and I’ve taken advantage of the many nice little corners in our conference venue for 1-on-1 conversations and consultations.

Dr Boback Ziaeian: The conference is much more intimate and easier to navigate than some of the larger national conferences.


What session are you most excited about at QCOR Scientific Sessions?

Dr Madeline Sterling: I always love the Young Investigator Award finalists – it’s wonderful to see exciting work across the country from really talented young investigators. I’m also looking forward to the Get with the Guidelines sessions, clinical trial track, and health IT sessions.

Dr Boback Ziaeian: I think the Google session. But like most buzz-worthy scientific concepts, I expect a lot of hype.

Dr Colleen McIlvennan: The early career sessions are always a highlight. This year offers a great lineup: Young Investigator Awards (Friday at 10:45 am), Building Bulletproof Collaborations (Friday at 12:45 pm), Tell it to Me Straight: The Truth About Early Career (Saturday at 12:45 pm), and oral abstract and moderated poster sessions specifically for early career!

Dr Tracy Wang: Two novel collaborations will be featured this year. The Get with the Guidelines (GWTG) registries have been the flagship quality improvement program for the AHA, designed to promote guideline adherence, elevate quality of care, and improve patient outcomes across many cardiovascular diseases. While research from GWTG has historically had a strong presence at the QCOR conference, this year’s conference attendees will get to enjoy a deep dive into the what and how of organizing and implementing systems of care for outcomes improvement. (emphasis added) Also exciting this year is the collaboration between QCOR and the Cardiovascular Clinical Trialists Forum. Joint sessions will explore how real-world data can be leveraged for evidence generation, something that has been aspirational over the last decade but is now very firmly part of the clinical trial research landscape.


Want to follow along at #QCOR19?

You can follow #CQOMeetingReport and #QCOR19 as we live tweet from Arlington this weekend, as well as the Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes journal account (@CircOutcomes).