What I Learned at the ASSH 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting

OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes Christopher Dy, MD, MPH in response to his recent participation in the virtual Annual Meeting of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand.

The year 2020 has brought with it many “firsts.” For example, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Annual Meeting for the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH) was moved from San Antonio to a virtual platform. Kudos to the Annual Meeting chairs (Dawn Laport, MD and Ryan Calfee, MD), ASSH president Martin Boyer, MD, and the ASSH staff for constructing an amazing experience. Here are some general take-homes from my first-ever virtual conference experience:

  • A virtual conference provides attendees with a ton of flexibility and customization. While there are often “conflicting,” concurrent sessions during an in-person meeting where I have to decide between 2 sessions, the virtual ASSH meeting format offered the ability to go back and watch prior courses and lectures. When we (hopefully) go back to in-person meetings, it would help if more sessions were recorded and made available to attendees on demand.
  • The virtual conference requires a lot more pre-meeting preparation for all parties involved, especially presenters. Because the sessions that would normally occur in the large, main halls were hosted on a professionally run platform with A/V engineers, presenters were required to attend more than a few “tech” rehearsals, as well as submit their presentation slides 4 to 6 weeks in advance. I admit that it was harder for me to present from slides that didn’t feel as fresh, since I couldn’t revise them the night before!
  • While it was convenient to view most of the meeting from my couch (or exercise bike), I really miss the in-person interactions with colleagues and friends that you get while moving between sessions. It’s also harder to pull yourself away from your family and your practice when you are “participating” in a meeting from home or office.

Here are 4 technical things I learned from the sessions I attended, largely biased toward my personal interests. I encourage readers to leave comments by clicking on the “Leave a Comment” button in the box next to the title.

  • Innovation continues for distal nerve transfers to treat peripheral nerve palsy. Professor Jayme Bertelli from Brazil gave talks demonstrating both technical aspects and his own results following transfers such as ECRL [extensor carpi radialis longus]-to-AIN [anterior interosseous nerve], distal AIN to distal PIN [posterior interosseous nerve], and opponens pollicis to adductor pollicis. I am eager to read more about these transfers and get into the cadaver lab to refine my surgical technique. (Precourse 03 and Symposium 18)
  • The debate about “supercharging” (reverse end-to-side) nerve transfers continues. There is laboratory evidence supporting the role of a supercharged nerve transfer in preserving the distal muscle unit and the distal nerve stump. However, there is controversy regarding whether it is benign and/or beneficial to have 2 “competing” sources of muscle innervation, in cases where the “native” nerve reaches the distal target after the axons coming from the supercharged transfer have been placed. While many surgeons have adopted supercharged nerve transfer into their practice, there is far more laboratory and clinical research needed to substantiate this practice and refine the indications for use. (Precourse 03 and Symposium 11)
  • Utilization of wide-awake, local-anesthesia, no-tourniquet (WALANT) hand surgery continues to grow. Surgeons are performing a growing number of different surgeries (including fracture cases and complex tendon transfers) with WALANT, and some are doing these cases in procedure rooms or offices rather than in a formal operating room. These changes are driven by both surgeon and patient preference, as well as potential cost advantages for both parties. For surgeons, there is a potential for increased revenue with WALANT, but this can come with logistical challenges such as stocking sterile trays and making sure that medications are available. The trend toward increasing utilization of WALANT in procedure rooms and in surgeons’ offices is likely to continue. (Instructional courses 24 and 56 and related OrthoBuzz post)
  • Teaching in the operating room has shifted. Many current trainees prefer to use videos for case preparation rather than focusing on book chapters, technique articles, or primary literature. Consequently, there is a growing embrace of video among hand-surgeon educators. Videos that are short, discuss indications, and provide rationale for technique-related decisions are favored. Today’s trainees are also less likely to respond well to the classic Socratic method of teaching and may need more overtly delivered feedback. (Instructional courses 10 and 36)

Christopher Dy, MD, MPH is a hand and wrist surgeon, an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and a member of the JBJS Social Media Advisory Board.

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