PHA Europe has run an annual conference for many years in a row. We usually meet in a hotel by the beach just south of Barcelona. We call it APHEC (Annual PH European Conference). The participants are leaders of the European national associations. They are invited to bring an extra person – often a translator, if English is a challenge for the national presidents.
The conference has always been a source of inspiration and opportunity for the participants to bond. We often use the term «our PH family», because our meetings have united us and made us a closely connected PH community, where no country borders exists. In this type of atmosphere, sharing and supporting each other comes natural. So our APHECs are very important to us.
Due to the pandemic, it was impossible for us to meet in Barcelona in 2020, like in the previous years. By the end of the year, we understood that we needed to find an alternative solution. So we contacted a Dutch company, who specializes in virtual events. They had a strong graphic department, and helped us recreate our Barcelona hotel. The two story building, with alleys on both sides, was easily recognizable to all with the pool in the front and the beach in the back of the hotel.
The participants entered the hotel through the virtual lobby. Here they got their badge and were greeted by one of the staff members. In addition, a welcome address from our president was played at the tv screen behind the desk counter. From the reception, one could go to any of the other areas in the hotel.
During our face-to-face meetings, the national associations often bring brochures and other materials to the conference room. Here it is all displayed and representatives from other associations can get inspiration and exchange samples with each other.
We wanted to create something similar in our virtual conference center and made an exhibition area, where all national associations were given a booth. Here they could write a description about their association, upload videos and documents that could be downloaded by all participants.
We also created a second exhibition hall. Here pharmaceutical companies, that we collaborate with, had a booth each. Likewise the speakers of the conference also had a booth, where the participants could read their micro biography.
The social aspect of the APHEC is very important and we tried to recreate the nice social atmosphere by creating a meeting area by the pool. Here participants could chat with other online participants by clicking on their icons. In addition, they could run video meetings with each other one to one or even group meetings. For a couple of weeks, we ran informal chat meetings by the pool every evening at 7 o’clock.
One important part of our APHEC is the presentations. We often attract top of the line PH specialists to speak for us, and our virtual APHEC was no exception. We prerecorded their presentation and made it available for our participants in the presentation room. The participants could watch them when it suited them, and they would write down questions they wanted to ask the presenters. Then we set aside two days where each of the ten presenters would participate in an hour long Q&A (Questions & Answers) session. A PHA Europe staff member was the moderator and asked the questions that were previously sent to him by the participants. The video session was streamed live to the theater room in the virtual conference area and the participants could ask additional questions to the presenter via the moderator. A large portion of the PHA Europe’s national associations took part in the very interesting Q&A sessions and seemed to enjoy the state of the art virtual setup.
We covered a lot of interesting topics during the presentations. An Austrian PH specialist talked about PH and covid-19. A British nurse talked about patient followups and diagnostics during the pandemic. In addition, we had an interesting session about PH and yoga, plus a related session on PH and breathing exercises. In addition, Prof. Grünig, a leading PH specialist, talked about PH and rehabilitation. Mental health for people living with a chronic disease was also covered by a physiologist, who has worked with PH patients for more than a decade. Prof. Humbert talked about PH research and Prof. Lang presented future PH treatments. Prof. Klepetko talked about advances made in lung transplantation for PH patients. In addition, a long term surviver of PH presented his personal survival guide. All in all, a diverse and interesting set of presentations very well perceived by the participants.
Of course, nothing beats a face-to-face meeting, but 2020 was a year where alternative solutions had to be made. We think we managed to portrait the friendly and great atmosphere of our APHEC and provide our participants with a memorable and informative very professional online event. It will be interesting to see if we can finally meet again in Barcelona in 2021 or if we need to copy the virtual event also this year. We hope to be able to meet, but if not, we know we have a good alternative in store. Our virtual APHEC 2020 was a solid proof of that!