Prof Thierry Troosters, European Respiratory Society (ERS) President, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
Interviewed by Layla Southcombe | Editorial Assistant, EMG-Health
Q: What aspects of a physical congress did the ERS set out to capture in the virtual ERS International Congress this year?
A: The virtual congress has been modified completely to fit a digital format. While conceptually there will still be presentations of original work, major symposia to disseminate important discoveries of the year, and interactive case-based sessions, the formats have been adapted to accommodate an online audience and allow for virtual interaction between participants.
We have also added live procedure sessions into the programme, where we’ll be able to go into leading hospitals around Europe and broadcast medical procedures, such as endoscopies, allowing participants to follow along from behind their desk. We’re making sure that delegates can visit the virtual stands of the industry and learn about the new developments directly from industry partners, as this is another important reason to attend an international conference.
Q: What in your opinion are three sessions from this year’s congress programme that are of significance to attendees?
A: The European Respiratory Society (ERS) spans all fields of respiratory medicine, so what each person likes most will depend on the discipline they are interested in. We have the clinical grand rounds, which are geared to clinicians and provide an update of key papers and clinical guidelines. One of these sessions, ‘Clinical Grand Round: revisiting current guidelines’, has a simply stellar panel of speakers and discussants.
I’m also looking forward to the sessions in the COVID-19 special feature, which we’ll organise for just before the congress starts on Sunday 6 September. The programme will be finished at the last-minute as the science is still in the making, but we already have the commitment of world-renowned experts to share the most up-to-date knowledge.
Finally, we’re catering to the whole world with a set of sessions in several key languages. We’ll have sessions in French, Spanish/Portuguese, German, Russian, and Chinese.
Q: It is the 30th Anniversary of the ERS International Congress this year; what are the most exciting changes that have been made to the scientific programme for ERS 2020 compared to ERS 2019?
A: Well the whole concept of the conference has been changed and we’re catering to a virtual audience – that is a big change. I personally hope that it will be an engaging congress; I’m anticipating a lot of interaction as the congress will be ‘open to the world’ and the pressure to ask questions in a digital format is much less than standing up and asking your question live and in-person.
The biggest change is that this year, we have actively trained our speakers and chairpersons to deliver presentations in a virtual surrounding. Its a big investment of the society, but hopefully it will improve the quality of the talks even further.
Q: Given that the ERS now have experience in organising a large virtual event, will the society consider hosting more online events, or potentially hybrid meetings, in the future?
A: Based on research conducted by our education department we know that people want to meet in person too. So, I hope that in-person meetings will soon become possible again. Then, we can decide what format fits best for specific learning needs.
For sure, we’ll keep some of our events such as ERS Satellites and Respiratory Updates as part virtual, but our members really value face-to-face meetings as they enable social contact and mentoring to take place. I hope we’ll make a healthy balance and I think that in the future, we’ll become even better at offering a digital platform for learning for ERS members.
Q: How is the ERS assisting the progression of global medical knowledge about the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: ERS has rapidly engaged through all of its branches to assist in disseminating knowledge about COVID-19, including through educational resources, scientific collaborations, and research publications in our journals, all of which is available on the ERS COVID-19 resource centre.1
We made links to our national society partners so that all respiratory health providers could either contribute or benefit from knowledge elsewhere, and we set up a clinical research collaboration that streamlined research initiatives. Through our advocacy unit, we have spoken out in response to reports of medical equipment being stuck at European borders and called for all frontline workers to get adequate personal protective equipment.
We’re continuing to provide COVID-19 education, science, and advocacy, as the pandemic is not over yet.
Q: Pulmonary rehabilitation will undoubtably be of the utmost importance in a post-COVID-19 era. How do you see the field changing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: I see two streams. Firstly, rehabilitation for patients that suffered from COVID-19. ERS has produced a rapid response document to help guide clinicians.2 Patients who suffered from severe COVID-19 need to be referred for proper assessment and rehabilitation, both physical, emotional, and/or cognitive rehabilitation may be required. It is important that patients are referred to such programmes and that clinicians see the need and help to motivate patients to take part!
Secondly, there is the need for regular pulmonary rehabilitation for patients with other respiratory disorders in times when COVID-19 imposes a significant burden; patients may have difficulties reaching the centres or centres may simply be closed. We need to redesign where needed and, for example, offer telerehabilitation without losing sight of the basic principles that make our programmes work.
Altogether, I think rehabilitation has had good recognition during the pandemic and I hope we’ll be able to motivate COVID-19 patients and others to take part in programmes. That would be an important achievement, as still only a fraction of patients receives rehabilitation programmes, which could truly make a difference to their health.
- European Respiratory Society (ERS). ERS COVID-19 resource centre. 2020. Available at: https://www.ersnet.org/the-society/news/novel-coronavirus-outbreak–update-and-information-for-healthcare-professionals. Last accessed: 15 August 2020.
- Spruit MA et al. COVID-19: Interim guidance on rehabilitation in the hospital and post-hospital phase from a European Respiratory Society and American Thoracic Society-coordinated International Task Force. Eur Respir J. 2020;DOI:10.1183/13993003.02197-2020.