Central to the ACR mission is the creation of exceptional learning opportunities for our members. Most important among these is the ACR/ARHP Annual Scientific Meeting. This year the ACR focused not only on identifying the best science in the field of rheumatology but also on presenting it in the most accessible, user-friendly manner. Over the years I have heard many colleagues describe the meeting as an “endurance sport.” But, if you were one of the 15,000 meeting attendees this year, you would have noticed that, through the use of technology, it is no longer a requirement to have the stamina of an Olympic athlete in order to take advantage of all the meeting has to offer. Modifications are made to the annual meeting every year, based on attendee comments and updated technology; however, this year, the ACR made major changes and launched several new initiatives.
Learn, in order to teach and to practice.
—Talmud Rabbinical writings
(A.D. 1st-6th cent)
The enhancements were evident as soon as you arrived at the convention center. The new barcode registration process made collecting your badge and materials quick and painless. In fact, during the peak check-in periods, the recorded wait time was less than four minutes. The age-old challenge of choosing which sessions to attend was alleviated this year by the expanded Encore Theatre and, the newest benefit, ACR SessionSelect. The expanded Encore Theatre provided the option to relax in your hotel room and watch a session that was recorded on the previous day. However, ACR SessionSelect and its star, Stanley Cohen, MD, stole the show at this year’s meeting. This new benefit provides online access to more than 90% of the 2008 educational sessions for one year and includes two viewing options: webcasts and downloadable vodcasts. In case you are one of the few attendees who have not yet taken advantage of this complimentary benefit, I encourage you to log in and view the sessions you missed or get together with your colleagues and incorporate ACR SessionSelect into your local educational activities.
The EMR Challenge was a new and popular session where EMR vendors were invited to demonstrate how effectively their systems are able to respond to the demands of a busy rheumatology practice. This session also presented an opportunity for rheumatologists to advise EMR vendors regarding the kinds of features that would be particularly useful for rheumatologists. This important dialogue will continue in future meetings and will, hopefully, lead to improved EMR tools for rheumatology practice.
Layout and Schedule Changes, New Offerings
The separation of the exhibits and posters was a result of changes to ACCME guidelines, and the revised layout made navigating the exhibits easier and therefore more enjoyable. The poster area was one of the highest trafficked areas, but if you planned ahead and used the improved indexing features of the online itinerary planner and searched by research method, type of clinical trial, or treatment phase, you could easily conserve energy by going directly to the relevant posters. However, if you preferred to linger over the complimentary coffee and bagels and view a variety of posters, the introduction of the “notable” poster designation made identifying the posters that scored in the top 15% easy. If you were in the poster area around 10:00 am each day, it was hard to miss the enthusiasm for the guided poster tours. The tours were introduced as a pilot initiative in an attempt to demystify research findings. Based on the strong interest expressed by participants, plans are already underway to expand the tours in 2009.
A special thanks to the planning committee for revising the schedule to offer midday study groups. I am sure I am not alone when I say that no more study groups ending after 9:00 pm is a good thing.
The Leadership Town Hall Meeting was another new offering this year. This open public forum allowed members to ask questions and share ideas regarding any aspect of the ACR’s work. Many interesting ideas were raised this year and we invite you to join this ongoing conversation at next year’s meeting.
Another exciting new initiative launched at the 2008 annual meeting was the ARHP Nurse Practitioner & Physician Assistant Postgraduate Rheumatology Training Program. This program was created in direct response to the growing demand by ACR/ARHP members identified, in part, through the ACR workforce survey. The program includes 18 hours of audio-annotated PowerPoint slides—over 2,800 slides, and 631 images. It allows nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other rheumatology health professionals to build competence in interdisciplinary team-based care for persons with rheumatic diseases in an easy, flexible, and affordable way. This is another example of how the ACR is leveraging technology to improve the delivery of education for its members.
The ACR Research and Education Foundation (REF) also launched a number of new initiatives this year. Importantly, the REF Memorial Display was created to honor and remember our deceased ACR colleagues. The REF also updated members on the remarkable success of Within Our Reach, the $30-million campaign to fund innovative RA research. The REF reported that the campaign has reached approximately 80% of its fundraising goal and has already disbursed $12 million to 30 investigators. This important milestone is certainly cause for celebration.
One of the highlights of the annual meeting for me was taking part in the Year in Review. Although the task of reviewing and synthesizing the clinical research literature from the previous year was daunting, I actually enjoyed the discretion and flexibility this format allowed. I am a strong believer in the value of the scientific approach to evidence synthesis, but I must admit that it felt surprisingly liberating to dispense with the rules of systematic reviews or meta-analyses and simply present my personal perspective of the literature. Over the years I have found it meaningful to learn about my colleagues’ personal perspectives on the scientific advances and more controversial issues of the past year through this session.
Thus, 2008 was a year where many innovative approaches were introduced into the annual meeting to make it easier, more comfortable, and more enjoyable to learn about the best new science in rheumatology. Even if you are athletically challenged (like I am), make plans to join us in Philadelphia for the 2009 annual meeting. The ACR is going back to the place where rheumatology began in order to celebrate 75 years of excellence in rheumatology. You will not want to miss the 75th Anniversary celebrations and the exciting new initiatives we have planned for next year. I look forward to seeing you all in Philadelphia.
Dr. Gabriel is president of the ACR. Contact her via e-mail at [email protected].