The first online GIBS Healthcare Conference took place from 24 to 28 August, attracting between 160 and 175 delegates per day and securing the distinction of being the biggest online event to be hosted by the business school – for now, at least.

The first online GIBS Healthcare Conference took place from 24 to 28 August, attracting between 160 and 175 delegates per day and securing the distinction of being the biggest online event to be hosted by the business school – for now, at least.

At a time when the implications of Covid-19 were front of mind, and the healthcare sector was reflecting on its handling of the pandemic, the content was – in true GIBS style - king. But this was no ordinary conference. There was no lavish GIBS catering and opportunities to mingle. Nor was a packed full-day programme on the cards. Instead, Katie Kilpatrick, senior manager: Forums, Conferences and Media, and her team had to reinvent the conference model.

Online learning and interactions were central to the GIBS offering long before Covid-19, but since lockdown it became clear that GIBS needed to package its online interactions differently to its physical events. This required the organisers to take into account real challenges like scheduling conflicts and remote meeting fatigue.

Before Microsoft’s Human Factors Lab determined that, through EEG monitoring of brain activity, interacting online is “more mentally challenging than in-person collaboration”, Kilpatrick and her team were remoulding the GIBS conference and forum experience to the digital reality.

“We introduced conferences in an innovative digital format with live sessions scheduled over a week,” explains Kilpatrick. The team also ensured that if delegates were unable to attend all the live events, they could opt to receive a recorded package after the event.

This rethink also extended to the popular GIBS masterclass series, which now gives delegates more than four months to engage with the various teaching videos, readings and masterclass exercises.

For the team behind GIBS’ virtual events and conferences, 2020 has propelled them into learning and mastering how to build webinars and navigate the process of managing both delegates and speakers through remote means. At the same time, they strive to ensure that the excitement and anticipation around the events is undiminished.

“It is very much the same as producing events on campus, with the new added challenge of ensuring all the speakers and delegates have the correct links per session,” says Kilpatrick.

Citing the recent two-day GIBS-SAVCA Programme in Private Equity Foundation workshop, which attracted 150 delegates, as another successful example, she noted: “We are thrilled that our audience has been as enthusiastic about the online events as they are about our campus offering.”

The online GIBS Healthcare Conference certainly attracted some big names, including Dr. Nicholas Crisp, public health consultant: National Department of Health; Dr. Stavros Nicolaou, head of Business South Africa’s Public Health Workgroup; Western Cape MEC for Health, Nomafrench Mbombo; Dr. Ryan Noach, CEO: Discovery Health and high-level representatives from South Africa’s testing laboratories and health technology researchers.

Some of the key insights to emerge from the week-long event included:

- A call for smarter data use and digital integration.

- A concern over the collateral healthcare impacts of the pandemic.

- The notable collaboration which Covid-19 encouraged.

- A call to improve the efficiency of healthcare spending.

- Concerns about the economic fallout from the extensive lockdown on medical professionals, patients and medical schemes.

- Extensive support for the notion of universal health coverage, but with vocal concerns about the model on the table and the potential for corruption in the system.

- The importance of reducing South Africa’s reliance on importing medical technology and personal protective equipment by ramping up local manufacturing.

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