Presidents' Letter - Looking back at Family Doctors Europe 2020 Virtual Conference

Dear Colleagues

Live part of our 25th WONCA Europe Conference 2020 ended successfully and all registered persons have ongoing access to the virtual library until the end of January. Statement of the congress and keynotes will be accessible by WONCA website for longer and also the WONCA World book which was launched during the conference.
It was unfortunate that we could not meet in Berlin last summer. However, this first large virtual conference of WONCA proved to be a great success. Thanks to exceptional efforts of presenters and organizers and the very helpful contribution of those who put in their questions during live sessions or participated in the live workshops. We got new insights and connections.

We were pleased with about 1,560 registered persons from 67 countries with 63% females. Half of all participants belong to the group of young doctors, nurses or students. Although we missed meeting directly the virtual format offered new options: one can follow much more sessions than in a traditional conference, you can enter to sessions whenever you want without disturbing others. Many guests quoted their questions which can be seen and answered later. We were visible for participants and media who otherwise would not be present. Presentations of young colleagues from Portugal or research findings from UK practices were now cited in important German media.
This conference showed that despite difficult circumstances we were able to be connected to exchange our experiences. We were able to strengthen ourselves as well as our profession. We are looking forward to meeting you again in virtual meetings as well as those in presence in Europe.
With many thanks to all who contributed to this conference

Erika Baum and Christoph Heintze for the organizers

WONCA Europe conferences had roughly from 1500 to 5000 participants each year, and we heard that this conference had 1560 participants for the main program while 161 to VdGM preconference. This may be considered the largest virtual conference up to now in this level for WONCA worldwide. A virtual conference for WONCA Europe is for the first time ever in our history. It is really a new experience for family doctors around the world to have such a large conference kindly hosted by DEGAM. I know WONCA and its regions were waiting to see how this meeting would be, what the outcome would be and what lessons there would be for them to improve after such a large conference in Family Practice. I would like to repeat our appreciation to DEGAM for their great work in such a period with a pandemic the humans face once in a hundred years. The virtual conference we have just completed will be a pioneer and took its place in our history in a good way, having many positive feedback from our members.

The VdGM pre conference was held between 9am and 2pm CET on December 16, via zoom with an excellent topic, “Change” while the main conference itself had “Core Values” as its main theme. The pre conference opened with wonderful ballet exercises and a nice opening led by Wolfram & Hannah followed by keynotes. One can easily see that many people are afraid of change although they say they like changes. Those following words belong to the young doctors which are meaningful; “we do not need to change the core values but we do need to change how we deliver them”, we are future yes but we should focus on now”.  

And as executives, we say thanks to all our MOs for all their support and commitment during the last years. We will overcome all of these difficulties. We crossed many bridges beforehand by hand and we will do that again for sure. I have informed participants to follow our website for the president’s activity reports. I recommended them to see what we have achieved even in this pandemic period. The recent EJGP article by our executive board members consisting of seven highly cited academicians provided perspective of WONCA Europe on academic work during this pandemic. For more information on our activities I recommended the participants to read the Newsletter each month written in an “Easy English”, as decided in the past, although still sometimes criticized.

Erika, Martin, Christoph, as our hosts made their wonderful and motivating speeches in opening right after the beautiful music show and I opened the Conference with the traditional way, the medal on my neck, knocking the historical hummer with signs of SIMC, historical name of the WONCA Europe, and with a short speech.

Around 26 to 35 percent of physicians who died from COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic across the world are Family Doctors. I am thankful to our members who joined me in a moment of silence during my opening speech to honor these colleagues from all around Europe. We mourn the loss of their lives. They shall not be forgotten. For that purpose our IT Engineer, with the contribution of our secretariat, created an Obituaries section in our web site to remember our colleagues and to enable you all to be able to add in Obituaries of lost colleagues.

After the opening there were two plenaries. Our first keynote was Prof Amanda Howe, immediate past president of WONCA and President of the RCGP. Her keynote lecture addressed the major challenges in generalist practice. FDs/GPs are competent in many areas of knowledge, skills, and evidence based applications.  FDs/GPs are linking the ‘doctor’ agenda with the needs, views and unique situation of each person who is their patient. “How to make safe diagnoses and be patient centered in the remote consultation setting”. “How to retain the breadth of our best practice while meeting the added demands of the new context”. Amanda made us think on these dilemmas sharing some lived experiences and principles that could guide us to achieve both goals.

Next plenary keynote was by a doctor colleague who always supported GP/FM, the WHO Europe Regional Director Dr Hans Kluge. He delivered a very effective speech taking all what we are currently going through into account. At the end I asked dear Dr Kluge to give us a task. What would he recommend us to concentrate on for the next 12 months as the three achievable goals? He answered:

  1. Positive partnership in between WHO Europe & WONCA Europe and all others
  2. Going to challenging places together in the WHO Europe region to help
  3. Linking GPs/FDs with Hospitals

I am happy to mention that those above are all in our revised future plan 2019-2022,  here in the WONCA Europe website. I am recommending you to work with us to develop an official program for an exchange of expertise in between our MOs.

In the WONCA Europe Open meeting which our President Elect Prof. Shlomo Vinker, moderated, I presented a chronological history of GP/FM in Europe and Wonca Europe. You may find it on our web page and I will be happy to add new lines in case you would like to contribute with any other important dates and events related to that. As past presidents, Prof Chris Van Wheel and Prof Igor Svab, and also two executive board members Prof. Zalika Klemenc Ketis, and Dr. Sonia Tsukagoshi made remarks on core values after the group work presentation by Dr. Anna Stavdal. I made final remarks in closing the session. We have seen that the core values group created seven core values, while we may see four same as those mentioned by the past presidents. You may find the record of the session in the library section of the conference web page. WONCA Europe 25th Anniversary Awards were provided to those privileged 12 doctors selected by their MOs as featured doctors during this open meeting. Some of them were thanking us with letters saying they are happy to be valued and mentioned that even in the conditions of an epidemic we managed to keep the activities of WONCA Europe at the highest level. And WONCA Europe World Book Europe Special Edition for 25th year was presented by Carl Stylearts, co-editor and creator of such an idea. Without him such a present to WONCA Europe family would not be possible, we appreciate once more. I personally thank Carl also as he mentioned that he made this as a gift for my presidency. Erika as an editor and as co-editor I contributed in but main idea and work is made by Carl, including collection of those selected articles by the six Networks, 25 in total, with an addendum. This valuable present to our members, 2020 special edition is free as the previous 2015 book. Please register or login with your WONCA Europe account if you are already registered to get your copy. Registration is also free of charge
On the second day, Thursday, we had a keynote by Sally Kendall, Professor of Community Nursing and Public Health, University of Kent, UK, who was diagnosed with breast cancer and became a patient during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sally made a touch but a highly appreciated keynote telling us all dimensions on an experience that has been both a personal struggle and very enlightening. When you listen to this unique keynote presentation by Prof Kendall as a patient and as a PC professional your approach and thoughts will change positively.

In another keynote on Friday by Maria van den Muijsenbergh and Andrea Canini we saw the evidence of the impact of Covid-19 on Family Practice and the importance of strong primary care collaboration, as well as a practical example on how to deliver person-centered integrated Primary Care to vulnerable groups.

Donald Li, Yonah Yaphe and Norbert Donner-Banzhoff talked and discussed new technologies, and commercialization with the moderators Martin Scherer and Shlomo Vinker. There were very interesting and strong arguments with evidence for those who are advancing in some countries with these technologies in primary care. We all heard a need for careful use, but as the pre-conference theme reminded us, we all also need to be open to change. We are taking safe and effective steps under these circumstances with full uncertainty nowadays. Donald pointed out that continuity of key principles of family medicine could be challenged by the technology. We need to work with our local government for regulations in practice, without putting that into routine to replace and threaten our principles in GP/FM.

On the final day Dr Ron Sabar made his talk on "Hospital at home, home care, palliative care" and later a nice plenary by Raquel Gomez Bravo. Dr Bravo talked on "Visions for the future, vocational training and special aspects on family violence". The talk focused on a need for raising the awareness for family violence in primary care and societies.

In the closing session Dr Austin Carol was announced as the winner of the 5-Star Family Doctor award of WONCA Europe, the certificate was provided by me and Dr Carol made a nice speech thanking everyone. Dr Carol was nominated by our member ICGP. This is the most prestigious award for a super FD/GP Clinician and Educator in our region. Other award certificates, Montegut and WONCA Europe Scholars were also provided by me to the awardees in the closing.

Do not forget what I told you at the opening! “Those who are flexible and those who adapt are alive and looking to the future”. FDs shall be alive and always look at the future not back.

Now full of hope and energy, knowing what and how to do, and well educated at the age of 25 we are looking forward!

I want to summarize the whole conference in one sentence and it is our motto for the coming 2021;

The more @WONCAEurope in Health the more @PrimaryHealthCare in Europe!

Wish you all have a healthy, peaceful and productive 2021

Kind regards

Prof. Dr. Mehmet Ungan
WONCA Europe