Accreditation of surgery centers and other organizations did not end after the COVID-19 pandemic began. But it became more challenging.

Organizations that hold educational conferences had to change the way they manage these programs. Instead of attracting attendees to interesting destinations and providing opportunities for in-person networking, they had to switch all programs to virtual formats. Each had to offer something different from the virtual webinars that were a regular part of many events even before the pandemic.

“When you’re doing an occasional webinar, it’s largely a talking head or slide presentation,” says Noel Adachi, MBA, president and chief executive officer of the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC). “You have to figure out how to leverage the platform to drive more engagement through using Q&As and having knowledgeable faculty who are responsive to the audience. We’ve integrated a lot more Q&As, so there still is responsive access to our faculty, and all faculty are experienced surveyors in the ambulatory space.”

One of the big drawbacks of virtual conferences is the lack of a captive live audience. They may be “attending” the conference while also multitasking. Viewers could be drawn away from a session because of some work- or family-related issue.

“Now, we need to chunk-feed the content into absorbable periods of time so it fits in with the reality of people’s lives,” Adachi observes.

From the perspective of surgery centers, finding time for activities not related to their daily work was more challenging after the initial national shutdown in the early months of the pandemic.

“Just like AAAHC had to postpone onsite surveys, our clients had to postpone a lot of their patient care. Into the first quarter of 2021, they were very busy, catching up with all the patients who delayed their procedures and follow-up care,” Adachi explains.

Creating online educational material requires more creativity, says Timothy J. Peterson, MD, AAAHC board chair. “We customize part of the achieving accreditation seminar so they’re interactive,” Peterson says. “We added more detailed structure so workshops will allow people to interact with one another.”

Other changes included the creation of an Ask the Expert session, in which participants can go into small chat rooms to ask questions, one on one, with a faculty expert.

“The good side of having content that’s recorded is that if people are interrupted, we can make content available to them for a month afterward so they can review it for their convenience,” Peterson explains. “Or, if they have three staff members who might benefit from that, they can have them look at it.”

Educational content already was moving toward a model of blended curriculum, but the pandemic accelerated this process.

“Blended does not mean putting on a webinar, but reaching audiences and engaging them virtually,” Adachi says. “With virtual sessions, you can meet the masses. But you also need to have small group activities so people can talk to each other.”

During Zoom sessions, participants can meet new people and network with peers and colleagues.

“With every live program at AAAHC, people want to know who attended because they want to follow up with that person,” Adachi says. “Having that small group and not just having faculty talking allows us to experience that opportunity.”

While educational programs can work in the online space, accreditation surveys would be more challenging to conduct online. “There are different ways to leverage a virtual survey, but we don’t want virtual to replace on site,” Adachi says. “Virtual contact can augment onsite surveys by allowing more temperature checks and more quality checks through that [pandemic] period.”

This can help accredited organizations strengthen their commitment. “Right now, surveyors are going on site,” Adachi says. “We had a stoppage or significant reduction of onsite surveys during the initial blast of COVID, but we’ve done onsite surveys through the vast majority of the time.”

One of the lessons learned from the pandemic is that more education about and heightened awareness of hand hygiene and wearing masks resulted in large reductions in the number of flu cases and other respiratory infections when compared to other years.

“There is a whole emphasis on infection prevention, education, and these move into the fabric of our organizations and daily lives,” Adachi says.