EAPC World Research Congress: From Palermo to Online

Julie Ling, CEO, and Christoph Ostgathe, President, European Association for Palliative Care, explain what happened on the three days in October that have become part of EAPC history.


Julie Ling and Christoph Ostgathe wearing the #EAPC2020 African masks.

This year is a year like no other. Our 2020 congress due to take place in Sicily in May instead became the first-ever EAPC World Research Congress Online. A changed world in the depths of a global pandemic resulted in travel restrictions, health risks and limited gatherings – and 1,112 delegates from 69 countries settling down at their desks, kitchen tables and in front of their computers, tablets and phones became a part of EAPC history.

One of our initial concerns was whether the spark would fly in the digital space. Participants could view all the lectures and posters online three weeks before the start of the congress. The days online were intended above all for exchange, discussion and interaction. The opening ceremony, with piano music from Palermo and a trenchant lecture by Professor Catherine Walshe marking the ‘International Year of the Nurse and Midwife’, set the scene for the coming hours and days.

COVID-19 and the Palliative Care Response

A call for late-breaking abstracts yielded 59 high-quality submissions. The highest scoring abstracts formed three sessions dedicated to COVID-19 and the palliative care response. These were anchored by two excellent plenary presentations from Professor Irene Higginson and Professor Luca Riva who impressively demonstrated the heterogeneity of the integration of palliative care into the health systems’ response to the pandemic. Apart from the quality of the contributions, we were impressed by the speed with which the international research community, despite the great challenge, has begun to generate evidence for our patients in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So much of the congress was different but some things were the same. The scientific committee, under the leadership of Professors Marie Fallon and Lieve Van den Block supported by Professor Augusto Caraceni, put together a really diverse and interesting programme. The best palliative care researchers in the world presented their findings, identified challenges and discussed and debated contemporary issues in palliative care. As always, a significant proportion of the programme was developed from submitted abstracts, which demonstrated the vitality and commitment of those working, or with an interest, in palliative care research and their role in producing evidence to support service development and best practice. The traditional EAPC congress bags were made by Kawempe home care team in Uganda but this year we also bought their African print face masks. Those accessing the congress platform the most will be awarded prizes including these great gifts.

So, what was different? 

The new format of the online congress allowed delegates to ask questions to the speakers and to participate in the discussion in a very focused way, both beforehand and through the chat function. Every part of the congress was recorded and is available on demand until 31 January 2021, enabling registered participants to view all of the presentations. A month on from the live and interactive sessions, we have data that suggests that many participants are taking advantage of this and continue to access the content. Big winners were the EAPC Groups (task forces and reference groups) who organised open meetings during the congress. During in-person congresses, the audience for these open meetings can be small. During the online congress audience numbers soared; speakers and chairs of these sessions were both surprised and delighted in the interest shown.

Evaluating #EAPC2020

Delegates had the chance to give their feedback, good and bad, via the congress evaluation. We received 351 responses. When asked, 317:351 felt that the congress scientific content met their educational needs (as shown in the first of the two charts below).

Comments included:

“It went technically perfect but more than that: it had a strange intensity, the content was really interesting and I felt often the ‘community’ feeling of a normal congress.”

“Really enjoyed the virtual conference – some key learning, really interesting topics and good for the environment!”

“#EAPC2020 first time online, but for us an extraordinary experience with three days of inspiring and motivating presentations, talks and discussions…see you in 2021.”

“I really felt the EAPC vibe these days despite the online format. And I really like that we had so much time for Q & A.”

“I would like to thank the organisers of the Children’s Palliative Care Seminar at the 11th EAPC World Research Congress Online for a highly successful and informative meeting. To my mind the structure of the sessions was excellent and a template for future online meetings.”

 “Exploring New Dimensions” at #EAPC2021

The 17th World Congress of the EAPC will also take place online from 6 to 8 October 2021 with the theme “Exploring new Dimensions”. Meanwhile, the EAPC board are working hard to make it possible to hold an in-person congress again as soon as it is safe to do so. But one thing is already clear: future EAPC congresses will be different from those in the past, with a need to combine the best of both formats into one event.

Please submit your abstracts from 1 January 2021 and we will look forward to seeing you at our online congress in October 2021.


How to access 11th EAPC World Research Congress Online resources

17th EAPC World Congress Online 2021 

  • Call for Abstracts opens 1 January 2021 until 28 February 2021.
  • Registration opens 1 December 2020.

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