What if the FDA held virtual meetings? It could get more input more often from more people for less money. What if they held virtual AdComm meetings? Wouldn't that be great? It isn't far fetched, it just requires vision.
When I was in Berlin at the Second Annual ExL Digital Pharma Conference, you may recall that one of my postings and a video involved a young force of nature named Dr. Bertalan Mesko from Debrecen, Hungary. He specializes in helping physicians maximize use of Web 2.0. See his work at his blog ScienceRoll and at his site Webicina which serves as a bridge for physicians and patients between traditional medicine and medicine with the benefits of Web 2.0. His presentation on medicine and social media was by far and away the highlight of the two days in Berlin- for many reasons.
One of them was that Dr. Mesko, or rather Berci – discussed the rationale for holding medical meetings virtually – via Second Life, or an alternative to Second Life, of which there are many. You may, at first, be dismissive of the idea. Second Life – isn't that where you create an avatar and let your alter ego do what you never did? Isn't it a game?
But recall that Twitter and Facebook were equally dismissive only a few years ago – perceived as things your kids used to tell each other what they ate for lunch or who is dating who? Today, reporters are on Twitter in droves and corporate brands are on Facebook just like they were one of our friends from high school. Remember, reader, there was a time when Google sounded silly. And also remember, things are moving fast – just 10 years ago, Google had only 8 employees. Sp put on your vision goggles.
Berci has a presentation in which he outlines how medical students can be trained using seminars held on media such as Second Life. The idea is not as far fetched as it sounds. His presentation is 20 minutes long, but it is an investment of time well worth it to the many who could benefit from holding meetings virtually. In a virtual meeting, evidence is presented. Cases can be discussed. Patients can even be examined. There are interchanges among experts. Slide shows can be given. Questions can be asked. Basically everything you do in person at a meeting can be accomplished virtually.
Does that mean that Second Life can take over the AdComm business? Realistically speaking, probably not. At least not in the near future. But practically speaking, the concept is worth looking at because technically, it is not out of the question.
There is good reason to consider it from both a perspective of time, resources, and to encourage wider participation in the virtual forum than you could possibly muster in the earthbound, geographic reliant forum.
The time, effort and resources that go into staging an AdComm meeting is substantial. Dates have to be saved, hotels reserved, flight schedules aligned and for the good ones, media trucks have to appear. There are a host of hotels outside Washington, D.C. in Maryland who make a good deal of money just from holding FDA Advisory Committee meetings on their premises. The hotel not only hosts the event, but presumably many of the players stay at the hotel as well.
In his talk in Berlin, Berci stated that while holding a medical meeting can cost thousands upon thousands of dollars, putting together a conference in a virtual world can cost mere dollars. Dollars upon dollars, as opposed to thousands upon thousands. Multiply the thousands upon thousands a single AdComm costs, times the number of AdComms the FDA holds each year and you get millions upon millions, I would bet. That would be good savings for an agency that has chronic funding woes.
But cost aside, there is also the element of timely and more comprehensive input.
While virtual AdComm meetings will probably not "materialize" for a whole host of reasons, what about other kinds of FDA meetings – like Part 15 meetings, or other efforts of the FDA to solicit input from the public? Consider, for example, the glacial manner in which the FDA formulates a draft guidance on any particular topic.
There is a public meeting, there are open dockets, there is a great gnashing of teeth. The whole thing takes months, sometimes years, all the while presiding over events and situations that continuously develop and evolve while the guidance is being over cooked and formulated. What if instead, there were a series of virtual conferences or meetings as a way for the FDA to get input on an ongoing basis? Wouldn't that be novel? Wouldn't the end product be much more current and much more informed if that were the case? And wouldn't the FDA be more in touch and less clueless than it is now in a host of areas concerning real, on-the-ground experiences of patients rather than theoretical models or concepts last floated at a meeting held months ago. In today's rapidly changing world, having one's ear to the ground doesn't hurt.
And oh yeah, wouldn't a great deal of money stand to be saved?
Or, we could just leave the virtual world to gamers.
By the way, in addition to the blog and site mentioned above, Berci tweets.