AAO 2021 kicks off in the Big Easy

The American Academy of Ophthalmology's annual meeting will proceed November 12 to 15 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) annual meeting is going live and will be held November 12 to 15 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Centre in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The event will include Subspecialty Days and will also offer a virtual component.

According to Debra Rosencrance, vice president of meetings and exhibits at AAO, after being totally virtual in 2020, the biggest thing attendees can look forward to at this year’s meeting is being together.

“We have noticed at our 2 recent in-person board meetings how much people enjoy just being together,” she said. “While virtual provided the opportunity to still see and hear great content, the networking is just not the same online as it is in person. That includes being able to walk the exhibit floor and experience the new technology.”

In New Orleans, AAO 2021 attendees can expect a new format based on strategic planning that was completed in early 2020.

“The meeting has been shortened by a day,” Rosencrance explained. “The session times have been standardized to allow for more and longer breaks. The opening session is now on Friday evening from 5 to 6:30 pm. This recreated meeting format will provide more opportunity for more networking either with colleagues or exhibitors.”

As the meeting will have a packed agenda, Rosencrance added that there will be a lot for those attending in person to take away, including the in-person experience.

“The hallway conversations with colleagues, catching up with friends, discussing the ophthalmic devices with exhibitors, and listening to world-renowned experts covering every facet of ophthalmology [are all part of the experience],” she pointed out. "Of particular note, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Cataract Spotlight moderated by David F. Chang, MD, and Nicole Fram, MD.”

This popular and fast-paced symposium will focus on cataract complications, and features many of the world’s leading ophthalmic surgeons.

Another popular item on the agenda each year is Subspecialty Days, and with an array of subspecialties highlighted, Rosencrance noted that there is plenty to choose from.

“In retina, Mark Humayun, MD, [PhD,] will give the Charles L. Schepens Lecture on retinal implants on Friday, and on Saturday there will be a discussion on artificial intelligence,” she said. “In glaucoma, there is a discussion on lens and glaucoma as well as a MIGS [minimally invasive glaucoma surgery] case-based section. In cornea, you can hear about the battle of the bugs, and therapies on the horizon.”

In addition to retina, cornea, and glaucoma, Subspecialty Days feature neuro-ophthalmology, ocular oncology and pathology, ocular plastic surgery, paediatric ophthalmology, and refractive surgery.

Rosencrance also noted that the American Academy of Ophthalmic Executives practice management program will be ophthalmologists’ 1-stop resource for their entire practice team.

“There are courses on fundamentals of coding, how to start a private practice, leadership skills, personal and practice finances, contracting, and much more,” she said.

Another key attraction will be the host city of New Orleans. Rosencrance expects that attendees will enjoy everything the Big Easy has to offer.

“New Orleans is always a favourite location, especially for the US ophthalmologists,” she said. “There is no other city like New Orleans, with its unique blend of southern hospitality, rich history, and world-class restaurants.”

The region was hit by Hurricane Ida in late August, but New Orleans did not suffer the damage seen in some other areas, and power was restored within weeks.

“The central business district and the French Quarter did not have significant damage from Ida,” Rosencrance noted. “Power was restored much quicker than anticipated, with 99% of the city already back on by September 13. Restaurants, hotels, and attractions are open and ready for visitors.”

Although Ida’s impact hasn’t rocked the boat for attendees, the COVID-19 pandemic will make its presence felt in many ways during the event.

According to Rosencrance, all attendees, including health professionals, exhibitors, and academy staff, will have to show proof of vaccination to enter the convention centre. The AAO will be using the Clear Health Pass app.

“Attendees will be able to take a picture of their vaccine cards to upload to the app,” she said. “Once [they have been] verified, the app will provide a green check mark which will be used to enter the convention centre and to pick up your badge. In addition, masks will be required in the convention centre.”

Rosencrance added that this year’s meeting room setup will provide more physical distancing than usual as well.

As the academy returns to live meetings, Rosencrance said the preparation can be a daunting task under normal circumstances. This year, she noted, it is hard to gauge what attendance will be there due to a variety of factors.

“A lot of people’s crystal balls are cloudy these days, but we anticipate being down between 30% and 40% from a typical year,” she concluded. “Of course, we have financial benchmarks that we hope to meet, but just being able to bring the ophthalmology community safely together again will be a tremendous success.”

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