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What to Expect at Heart Rhythm 2017: Interview with Thomas F. Deering, MD, FHRS

Interview by Jodie Elrod

Interview by Jodie Elrod

In this article, we speak with Thomas F. Deering, MD, FHRS, Scientific Sessions Program Committee Chair, about the Heart Rhythm Society’s (HRS) 38th Annual Scientific Sessions, taking place May 10-13 at the McCormick Place in Chicago.  

How have the Scientific Sessions grown or changed in the last 5 years? 

Education is always evolving — it is a work in progress. Attendees to Heart Rhythm in prior years have told us that they want to be more engaged at the meeting.

Answering that request is a major goal for us. Accordingly, over the past few years we have striven to make the sessions more interactive. In addition, there are many individuals in our specialty who are interested in different areas such as lead extraction, ablation, clinical quality, or basic science. Scientific Sessions include a number of general and multidisciplinary sessions complemented by focused sessions and pathways, which allow the learner to create a customized educational experience. The event has become more interactive while remaining both broad and focused in scope.  

What clinical highlights do you expect at Heart Rhythm 2017? What sessions or events would you say tend to be most popular with attendees?

I believe that every individual likes to get something different out of the sessions, but areas that are consistently well received and well attended by registrants are the Late-Breaking Clinical Trials. People always want to hear what the newest and greatest science is showing; what new technologies are available and how patient care is evolving. The Summits are also very popular — these focus on specific topics and allow people to hear from experts in the field about what is cutting edge and what is evolving.

Tell us about this year’s Opening Plenary address, and why Hugh Evans was chosen as keynote speaker.

We are very excited to have Hugh Evans as this year’s keynote plenary speaker. We have evolved our theme for the meeting; last year, it was “Together We Are” — demonstrating how we are a collaborative group of individuals engaged as a team. This year, it’s “Together We Can.” In his professional and personal life Hugh is a committed humanitarian  — he has initiated and led a multitude of team-based, global humanitarian efforts directed at addressing poverty and educational deficits in developing countries. He is an engaging and thoughtful speaker. In his plenary speech, he intends to speak and share ideas with us about how we, as members of the heart rhythm disorder community with a global footprint, ‘can work together’ to create a positive effect on arrhythmic healthcare delivery across the globe. 

New this year to the Heart Rhythm Society’s Scientific Sessions is the more than 30 sessions catered to genetic counselors working in cardiovascular electrophysiology. Tell us about this new offering.

Having the genetic counselors participate actively in our meeting is an important new addition. This is a growing field, and as you know, the Heart Rhythm Society has published a number of position papers in which the growing importance of genetic considerations in arrhythmic management is emphasized. Genetic counselors  are the individuals who help drive research at one level; educate our clinicians at another level, and educate as well as engage our patients at a third level. Therefore, this year we are including a number of sessions specifically dedicated to the importance of genetics in arrhythmia management. In addition, in sessions on focused topics such as HCM, ARVD, Long QT Syndrome, or atrial fibrillation, we have included genetic presentations so that members attending will be more aware of the genetic ties that relate to arrhythmia management.

Also new this year is the Catheter Ablation Master Class. What will be the format of this session, and what can attendees learn? 

This concept that we are trying to advance with this program is education based on direct case-based interaction led by world experts. The session is designed to be a collaborative, case-based format allowing the expert to be the mentor and teacher. This year, we are fortunate to have Dr. Warren “Sonny” Jackman participate — he is essentially one of the godfathers of catheter ablation. He will have 2 complex cases presented to him and a collaborative discussion will follow, allowing attendees to pick his brain. The Master Class concept emphasizes a great master, great cases, and great interaction, so it should be a wonderful learning experience for all. We are hoping to build on this concept and develop it more as the program continues to evolve over the next several years.

Is the Heart Rhythm Bowl new to this year’s conference? What can you tell us about this competition?

Yes, it is new. Learning should always be fun, so we want to add some levity to the sessions. The Heart Rhythm Bowl concept was suggested by one of the Program Committee members, Dr. D.J. Lakkireddy. This bowl will include multiple teams across the globe in a competition. Participants will be questioned on arrhythmic issues by an expert faculty. Just like your typical quiz bowl format, there will be an opportunity for participants to quickly think on their feet; respond with the right (or wrong) answers, and theoretically, get the big prize at the end. It will be fun and entertaining — we’re looking forward to it.

Featured on Saturday is the HRS Physician Leadership Series; who is this best geared for? Tell us more about this new series of professional development programs.

This is a newer concept that we are piloting at Heart Rhythm 2017. We are working with Northwestern University in Chicago to offer a professional development activity to attendees, who want to develop the skills needed to take a leadership role either within their own organization or within HRS. They will be interacting with both business and leadership faculty on how to learn and use the skills needed to go forward and become leaders in the field. We intend to keep building on this program over time.

A session on Thursday will focus on the new IAC Cardiac Electrophysiology Accreditation program and how to participate in the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Get with the Guidelines®-AFIB Registry. Why is it important for practices to consider participating in these initiatives?

It is very important for all of us — not only in our field of EP, but for physicians across the board in medicine — to commit to creating value; doing high-quality work; being transparent about our outcomes and holding ourselves accountable. We are trying to advance those initiatives with both of these programs.

In conjunction with the Pediatric & Congenital Electrophysiology Society (PACES) and the Society of Invasive Cardiovascular Professionals (SICP), HRS engaged with the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission (IAC) to launch the Cardiac Electrophysiology Accreditation program. Dr. David Haines served as the program’s first President and the current President is Dr. John Beshai. The program’s goal is to have institutions with EP laboratories commit to getting their EP labs accredited. They can be accredited for Testing and Ablation, Device Implantation, or Chronic Lead Extraction. It is our hope that those labs, which commit to doing things according to the guidelines and best practice approaches, will achieve better quality clinical outcomes. 

In partnership with the AHA, the Heart Rhythm Society is also using the Get with the Guidelines®-AFIB Registry as a quality improvement tool. We believe that all of our clinician members are committed to doing the right thing for patients. Accordingly, we commit to choosing, as ablation candidates, patients who meet the guideline-defined criteria, then holding ourselves accountable for good outcomes and low complication rates. The Get with the Guidelines®-AFIB Registry is a tool that we can use to help us improve. It is our hope that this program will better enable us to learn from our colleagues about how and what the best are doing and then facilitate collaboration to get better.

Also on Thursday, EPicenter Theatre 2 will be holding an educational symposium for attendees on achieving better communication with the media about heart rhythm disturbances. Who are the speakers for this event, and why should attendees participate?

Dr. Kevin Campbell, an electrophysiologist who is quite astute in dealing with the media, will lead this symposium. The bottom line is that arrhythmic issues frequently come up in the news and we want to make sure that our members, who are oftentimes the content experts in their local markets, have the tools to communicate effectively with the media on the radio, internet, or television. Dr. Campbell will present examples of how to come across efficiently and effectively to an audience. The session will be very interactive with the attendees having an opportunity to critique approaches, participate in the process, and ask questions. We are looking forward to this being a very positive session for those individuals who attend.

The “Social Media Strategies” session in the EPicenter Theatre 1 on Friday will show attendees how to effectively use social media. How has social media changed the scientific sessions and EP industry in general? 

I think that social media has and will continue to change both the scientific sessions and the field of electrophysiology. Having social media as a part of the scientific sessions allows people to share ideas. For example, if I am in a session and I think that the presentations and conversation are great, I can use general social media approaches or our session-based social media app to share thoughts with my colleagues and we can go back and forth in real time on a particular topic. We can also use social media to encourage others to attend an interesting session. Social media at a conference allows people to create a buzz, create connections, and create collaborations. Moving forward, I think it is going to be even more important to communicate on what you learned in the sessions and how to apply it in your everyday life. Interestingly, one of my colleagues at Piedmont Heart recently began sharing his questions about intra-cardiac electrograms and surface EKGs with the entire EP team in real time via social media to elicit feedback. Having this ability to communicate seamlessly and easily with multiple members of our large EP division has made it a better learning experience for us all of us and, I feel confident in saying, created better outcomes for patients. Instead of a single consultation, you get input from a team of ‘experts’. Sharing at that higher level makes people better; strengthens connections and improves patient care. Therefore, I believe social media will drive educational and quality improvement initiatives. 

What are your tips for first-time attendees?

If you go to Heart Rhythm 2017, remember that it is a large meeting and it can be overwhelming. What I would do is take a deep breath and try out everything. I would make sure to go to the First Time Attendee session, the Summits, the Meet the Experts sessions to interface with leaders in the field, and several Abstract Sessions so you can see what new science is being presented. I would watch the Live Cases and participate in a variety of interactive sessions. I would also make sure that I network with colleagues. All of these things are very important. I would not focus on one thing if I were a first-time attendee — I would see what the whole meeting has to offer. I would also make sure to spend some time in the Exhibit Hall to see the latest innovations from our industry partners. See what you like and what works for you so that you can start planning for subsequent years.

Were any new features added to Heart Rhythm On Demand? When will the mobile app be available?

We have a mobile app and an On Demand product. The mobile app has been available at our meeting for several years and we improve it annually. We have a number of new features, which we hope will be very helpful. One is an updated navigation component. This may be the first time you are at the McCormick Place convention center, since this is the first time Heart Rhythm is in Chicago. So, just like having a GPS in your car when visiting a new city helps you find your way, this navigation tool allows you to type in the session or location, and it will guide you there. You can locate an abstract, a poster, or a booth in the Exhibit Hall. This tool will also allow our attendees to track CME and MOC credits. In addition, to create a high-quality educational experience, we want to continually improve our program. The app helps us to do that by having attendees rate the sessions that they attend — this way we can get feedback and find out what we need to emphasize going forward. Last but not least, the tool offers a networking opportunity. Many attendees have their colleagues’ email addresses or cell phone numbers, but the app allows physicians, clinicians, and scientists at the meeting to contact all of their colleagues in attendance including those with whom they may have lost contact. The mobile app will be launched on April 14th and will be available throughout the meeting. 

Concerning the On Demand product, every year we take key sessions from Heart Rhythm and create this enduring product. Attendees, and those who are unable to attend Heart Rhythm but purchase On Demand as a stand-alone product, will have access to stored sessions so that they can watch a lecture which they were unable to attend. If they are preparing a talk and want to hear about a given topic, they can access a presentation to assist in that process. It will be available 24 hours after the session ends. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

The Heart Rhythm Program Committee and HRS leadership proudly feel that Heart Rhythm provides all attendees with the greatest scientific and clinical opportunities to learn about a variety of heart rhythm issues and network with colleagues. We encourage everybody to come and have a great educational and social experience in the Windy City!