SIR Reimagines Annual Conference Due to COVID-19

Seattle Skylines

With their annual conference slated for March 2020, the leadership of the Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR) had no government orders to guide them. Here’s a look at their extraordinary circumstances, how they reached the decision to cancel their annual meeting in Seattle, and what’s next for #SIR20SEA.

By Susan E. Sedory, MA, CAE, Executive Director, Society of Interventional Radiology

Susan SedoryMedical meetings like the Society of Interventional Radiology’s (SIR’s) Annual Scientific Meeting are key to supporting the overall mission of membership organizations. They provide attendees with the continuing medical education (CME) necessary to maintain certification. They fuel new research and help members grow professionally through collaboration. They showcase the latest innovations in dynamic exhibit halls. And they allow the community to come together to celebrate their leaders and achievements.

But the March 6 cancellation of SIR 2020, which would have brought more than 5,000 people to Seattle, Washington, from March 28–April 2, supported another part of SIR’s mission: to improve lives through image-guided therapy.

In early March, the U.S. impact of COVID-19 was just beginning to be understood. Evidence of community spread in the U.S. was emerging and SIR leadership and staff felt there was no way we should bring together an entire medical specialty in one place and then send them back home to practice.

Even though at the time, no federal, state or local government had issued orders to cancel large gatherings, we understood such a gathering would be far too risky to our members, our staff, their families, colleagues, patients, and communities. There was only one right choice and that was to cancel.

Choosing to Cancel

Arriving at that choice was a collaborative and data-driven effort carried out by SIR’s Executive Council officers, the Annual Meeting Committee, and staff. SIR’s nearly 50 professional staff are trained and plan for this kind of uncertainties, with contracts, contingencies, and insurance we hope to never use. But our IR leaders are precisely the kind of physicians who draw on such decision-making leadership in their practices every day: follow the data to assess and treat the patient.

Much like inpatient care, there was no single datapoint but rather a confluence of data that led to the decision—international travel bans into the U.S.; community spread in Seattle; the county asking for a limitation on public gatherings, but not yet demanding it; data from the CDC and WHO on how the disease is spread and how we can stop it; and data from our members about travel restrictions from their own institutions and their need to be available to assist in the fight when it comes to their community.

As this data grew over the course of only a few days and several conference calls, the leaders and staff weighed the options of scaling back versus canceling the meeting and made the only prudent choice: to cancel.

At SIR, we strive to be an organization that reflects the unique nature of interventional radiology. We share in a desire to be agile, collaborative, innovative, confident and patient-centered. All of those characteristics came to play in this decision and are still coming into play as we support our members during this crisis.

What's Next for SIR2020

What took 11 months to plan was instantaneously reimagined as a blend of recorded and live sessions to our members and attendees could still experience during the week set aside for the meeting. But just as quickly, we saw that many of our members were already on the frontlines fighting the new coronavirus. It became clear that rather than presentations and CME, our community would need policies, shared knowledge and PPE. In response, staff and leadership pivoted to create tools and resources to help guide them in that fight. We have held webinars, issued clinical notifications, published a toolkit and compiled best practices from a variety of sources in one COVID-19 resource center.

Our Annual Meeting Committee and staff teams are still working to hold onto what was lost as #SIR20SEA. We have provided a way to capture the science that would have been presented in Seattle into an on-demand digital video library that will be ready when our members are ready to re-engage with their other family. We will launch a virtual expo hall, and celebrate our award-winners, our leaders and our accomplishments.

Because, when this COVID-19 crisis passes, IRs will still be faced with the same medical challenges we were trying to address before—how to best help patients suffering from cancer, pain, vascular disease, and men’s and women’s health issues. SIR will still be there to help our members rebuild their practices and grow from what we learned by facing these new challenges. And our incredible community will need, more than ever, to come together and celebrate the physicians, allied health providers, nurses, technicians, researchers, students, and other health care workers who make sure image-guided, minimally invasive care is there to save lives and transform healthcare.