Which Conferences Will Still Be Virtual in 2021?

Marcia Frellick

December 15, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

When the COVID-19 pandemic exploded this past spring, medical conferences worldwide had to pivot quickly to online, virtual formats. Next year appears to be another year of transition, with the landscape of medical conference formats dotted with "virtual," "in-person," and "hybrid" meetings as the pandemic is expected to wane with the availability of effective vaccines.

Varied choices made by medical societies that have announced formats for next year reflect the struggle to safely bring large numbers of experts together nationally and internationally while preserving collegiality and an easy exchange of ideas.

Medscape's review of nearly 70 conferences scheduled in 2021 finds that most meetings in the first quarter of the year will remain virtual. Beginning in March and April, more meetings are shifting either to a hybrid of in-person and virtual or in-person only.

However, organizers are also ready to change plans as the pandemic evolves, even for those conferences planned late in the year.

Mark G. Watson, MD, executive director for one of the largest conferences, the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), told Medscape Medical News that, for now, its conference is scheduled to be an in-person meeting in Chicago in December 2021, with a planned virtual component as well.

"However," he said, "RSNA will continue to monitor the global situation and will be ready to provide a high-quality experience for our attendees and exhibitors, whatever the forum."

Philip Masters, MD, vice president of membership for the American College of Physicians (ACP), told Medscape Medical News that pandemic uncertainty pushed ACP to go virtual for its late-April 2021 meeting. The conference typically draws between 10,000 and 15,000 people.

"There's a huge amount of uncertainty about the trajectory of the pandemic even if we do have a vaccine," he said. "Bringing that many medical professionals into one place where they could infect each other or bring [the virus] back to their patients is not a good idea."

Moving large numbers of people from room to room with social distancing also presents huge space and time challenges, he noted. In addition, some major academic institutions have asked faculty not to travel. Even where travel is permitted, some medical professionals may simply feel unsafe traveling.

Some large meetings haven't committed either way. The American Medical Association website for its 2021 House of Delegates meeting, for instance, says, "More details to follow. Dates and locations subject to change."

Readers, would you go to an in-person medical conference in 2021? Tell us how you would make that decision by submitting a comment below.

Table. A Selection of 2021 Medical Conferences

Name of Conference Acronym Start Date Virtual, In Person, or Both Location
Royal College of Physicians RCP January 7 Virtual  
Society of Maternal Fetal Medicine: The Pregnancy Meeting SMFM January 25 Virtual  
Society of Critical Care Medicine SCCM January 31 Virtual  
American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology AAAAI February 26 Virtual  
European Society of Radiology ESR March 3 Both Vienna, Austria
Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections CROI March 6 Virtual  
American Pharmacists Association Annual Meeting APhA March 12 Virtual  
European Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation EBMT March 14 Virtual  
American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry AAGP March 15 Virtual  
International Stroke Conference ISC March 17 Virtual  
Anxiety and Depression Association of America ADAA March 18 Virtual  
Journées Francophones d'Hépato-Gastroenterologie et d'Oncologie Digestive JFHOD March 18 In person Paris, France
National Comprehensive Cancer Network NCCN March 18 Virtual  
Society of Gynecologic Oncology SGO March 19 Virtual  
Endocrine Society ENDO March 20 Virtual  
Society for Interventional Radiology SIR March 20 Virtual  
Congrès de la Société Francophone du Diabète SFD March 23 In person Strasbourg, France
European Lung Cancer Congress ESMO March 25 Virtual  
National Kidney Foundation Spring Clinical Meetings NKF April 6 Virtual  
American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus AAPOS April 9 Virtual  
American Association for Cancer Research AACR April 10 Virtual  
European Psychiatric Association EPA April 10 Virtual  
Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America SHEA April 13 Virtual  
American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics ACMG April 13 Both Los Angeles
International Society of Nephrology ISN April 15 Virtual  
Schizophrenia International Research Society SIRS April 17 Virtual  
American Academy of Neurology AAN April 17 Virtual  
Diabetes UK Professional Conference DUKPC April 19 Virtual  
American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology ASPHO April 21 In person Portland, Oregon
European Heart Rhythm Association EHRA April 23 Virtual  
American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery ASLMS April 24 virtual  
British Society for Rheumatology BSR April 26 Virtual  
International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation ISHLT April 27 Both Toronto, Canada
American College of Physicians Internal Medicine ACP IM April 29 Virtual  
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists ACOG April 30 Virtual Washington, DC
American Psychiatric Association APA May (Dates TBA) Virtual  
Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology ARVO May 1 virtual San Francisco
Society of Hospital Medicine SHM May 3 Virtual  
European Congress on Obesity ECO May 10 Virtual  
American Geriatrics Society AGS May 13 Virtual Chicago
American Thoracic Society ATS May 14 Both San Diego
American College of Cardiology ACC May 15 Both Atlanta
Digestive Disease Week DDW May 21 Virtual  
American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists AACE May 26 Both Las Vegas
Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers CMSC June 2 In person San Diego
European League Against Rheumatism EULAR June 2 Both Paris
American Society of Clinical Oncology ASCO June 4 In person Chicago
Associated Professional Sleep Societies APSS June 10 Virtual  
International Liver Congress ILC June 22 Both Amsterdam, The Netherlands
American Diabetes Association ADA June 25 In person Washington DC
Society of Gynecologic Surgeons SGS June 27 Both Palm Springs, California
European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Disases ECCMID July 9 Both Vienna, Austria
European Association of Urology EAU July 9 In person Milan, Italy
International AIDS Society IAS July 18 Both Berlin, Germany
Healthcare Informtion and Management Systems Society HIMSS August 9 In person Las Vegas
American Association of Neurological Surgeons Annual Meeting AANS August 14 In person Vancouver, Canada
European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology ESTRO August 27 Both Madrid, Spain
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons AAOS August 31 Both San Diego
European Stroke Organization ESO September 1 In person Helsinki, Finland
European Respiratory Society ERS September 4 In person Barcelona, Spain
American Urological Asociation AUA September 10 In person Las Vegas
ID Week IDWeek September 29 Both San Diego
American Academy of Pediatrics AAP October 8 In person Philadelphia
American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery and The Obesity Society ObesityWeek November 1 In person Dallas
American College of Rheumatology ACR November 5 In person San Francisco
Radiological Society of North America RSNA November 28 Both Chicago

Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago . She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune, Science News, and Nurse.com, and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud ( Minnesota ) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick

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