High Level Listserver-based Virtual Conferences for Family Medicine Residents and Young Family Physicians: the Portuguese Experience

Tiago Villanueva* Tiago Villanueva*, General Practitioner/Family Physician, Alvalade Personalized Health Care Unit, Lisbon, Portugal
Luís Filipe Cavadas, General Practitioner/Family Physician, Matosinhos Local Health Unit, Porto, Portugal

Track: Practice
Presentation Topic: Building virtual communities and social networking applications for health professionals
Presentation Type: Oral presentation
Submission Type: Single Presentation

Building: LKSC Conference Center Stanford
Room: Lower Auditorium 130
Date: 2011-09-17 02:30 PM – 04:00 PM
Last modified: 2011-08-12

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In Portugal, there is a “Yahoo Groups” based listserver aimed at Portuguese Family medicine residents and young Family physicians called “MGFXXI”, which currently has about 1016 members, mostly from Portugal, but also from Brazil, Spain, UK and USA. Electronic discussion lists (listservers) are important tools for professional development in Primary Care/Family Medicine, as Family Physicians usually face higher levels of professional isolation than Hospital Physicians. The listserver has been an invaluable platform for discussion, debate, and sharing of information and important documents at the local, national and international level.
We decided to take the virtual experience one step further and organize international virtual conferences with leading Family physicians from all over the world. The goal was to engage the members of the listserver in a stimulating exchange of innovative ideas, opinions and experiences with a special guest of renowned scientific and academic credentials, as well as providing additional networking and professional opportunities for members. The virtual conferences have catered for a flexible type of participation, as the members of the listserver pose questions which are answered at a time that is convenient for the special guest. These conferences have also not required any type of funding or participation fee.
Organizing these virtual conferences was possible due to the organizer's previous personal or professional contact with the special guest, use of negotiation skills, persistence, courage, and use of moderation skills during the virtual conference.
From July 2009 to April 2011, the authors, who are both also co-moderators of the listserver, organized seven virtual conferences, with the duration of one to two weeks each. The theme of the conference is chosen by the special guest, and previous themes were “Innovation in General Practice/Family Medicine and Primary Health Care” (Juan Gérvas, Spain), “Our clinical records: for patients and health care” (Mike Pringle, United Kingdom); “Primary Care in 2015” (Richard Roberts, USA); “Family Medicine in Brazil: strengths and weaknesses” (Gustavo Gusso, Brazil); “Defining the individual and collective responsibilities of the future Family Doctor” (Les Toop, New Zealand), “Challenges in Primary Health Care” (Barbara Starfield, USA) and "Primary Care in a Global Perspective: The contribution of Family Medicine to Global Health" (Per Kallestrup, Denmark). The official languages used in the virtual conferences have been Portuguese, English or Spanish, depending on the nationality of the special guest. The seven conferences have generated so far nearly 300 questions from members of the listserver. In terms of impact, the experience of organizing the virtual conferences has resulted in positive feedback from the participating colleagues, as well as in coverage in the mainstream Family Medicine Portuguese and international press and the transcripts of the virtual conference (question-answer sets) have been published in a special section of the main Portuguese portal concerning Family Medicine and Primary Health Care in Portugal (www.mgfamiliar.net) on http://www.mgfamiliar.net/mgfxxi.htm.
We intend to continue pursuing this already internationally acclaimed project throughout 2011, as well as developing the potential of these virtual conferences by inviting special guests from other fields of science such as Sociology, Anthropology, or Management, thus generating multidisciplinary debate.

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