|Members of the population sciences and epidemiology B study section participate in the first NIH telepresence review meeting.
“It’s not your father’s video meeting,” said CSR director Dr. Toni Scarpa. “Amazing stories are coming from reviewers and staff participating in new ‘telepresence’ review meetings.” For the last year, CSR has tested these meetings, which use customized conference rooms in hotels and other locations across the country.
Reviewers gather in two or more of these rooms, which have large screens that place reviewers in different cities around a virtual table.
Dr. Nancy Reynolds, who directs doctoral and postdoctoral programs at Yale University School of Nursing, chaired a telepresence meeting from New York City. “It went extremely well,” she said. “You had a sense of people sitting at the same table…you could see their expressions.”
Scarpa laughed about one meeting he attended. “I went looking for my reading glasses,” he said. “I thought I saw them on the conference table, but when I went to grab them, I reached for glasses in San Francisco!”
“Telepresence meetings envelop you to the point that the technology disappears,” said Dr. Ross Shonat, CSR’s telepresence coordinator. “In one meeting, two reviewers in different cities who had a conflict with an application had to leave the meeting. One was surprised for a second that he didn’t meet the other reviewer in the hallway.
“In some respects, telepresence meetings are better than regular meetings,” Shonat continued. “You can often hear and see better because the system is so responsive to the reviewers when they speak.”
Reynolds is more than pleased with the technology. “For me, the great advantage was the reduced travel time. I just hopped on a train to New York,” she said. “Sometimes you have to give up a whole day to travel.”
“Reducing reviewer burdens in this way is the main reason for testing telepresence,” said Scarpa. “Such electronic meetings are extremely valuable if they are the best way to engage the reviewers we need.” He noted that CSR holds about 15-20 telepresence meetings each review round. A typical meeting runs about 7 hours, accommodating schedules on both coasts.
So far, CSR has held telepresence meetings in New York City, San Francisco and Bethesda. “Because the feedback has been so amazing, we’re looking to add more meetings and cities,” Scarpa said. “We hope to bring in reviewers via sites in Boston and Los Angeles soon.”