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Peer Review Notes May 2012

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Hybrid Video and Face-to-Face Reviews: The Best of Both Worlds?

Hybrid Video and Face-to-Face Reviews: The Best of Both Worlds?
We recently gave reviewers in a couple of study sections a
choice: They could come to a face-to-face review meeting in
Bethesda or connect to the same meeting via a secure video link from their home or office. The meetings were hosted at CSR in meeting rooms with four large monitors on the walls.
 

One of the meetings was a special emphasis panel organized by 
Dr. Malgorzata Klosek. To see how things went, we interviewed

the chair: Dr. Warren Johnson, who is the Director of the Center for Global Health at Weill Cornell Medical College.

He had some trepidation about video reviewers before the meeting, and he wondered, “Would they be diligent or disappear if they weren’t interested in an application? And how could they responsibly score the application?”
 
“I was pleasantly surprised. The video reviewers were active participants through the whole meeting,” he said. “Frankly, I got used to it. They were at the end of the room. I could look up and see them. It was almost as if they were at the end of a long table.”
 
We also asked one of the video reviewers what he thought. “The meeting went very well,” said Dr.
Oladele Ogunseitan, who linked in to the meeting from The University of California in Irvine. “It was just like being there,” he said. “The video connection was excellent, and I was able to read ‘body language.’” He then explained, “I had to connect very early in the morning, but this was way more convenient than traveling across the country.”
 
“Hybrid meetings allow peer review to be more user friendly,” said Dr. Eileen Bradley, Chief of CSR’s 
Surgical Sciences, Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering Integrated Review Group. “Sometimes reviewers simply can’t travel . . . they have responsibilities for their labs, coworkers, friends and family. Life happens. People get sick, sons and daughters graduate and get married. And even if something
happens at the last minute, we can usually bring them in by video.”
 
Dr. Bradley started piloting hybrid video meetings in 2003 because she found it so hard to recruit
physicians, small business and other reviewers to serve on her review groups. But these meetings were hampered by the limitations of the video technology available. “One slow connection used to slow the whole meeting,” she said. “But CSR recently acquired new video conferencing technology and servicesthat makes video enhanced review meetings more reliable and useful.”
 
The majority of reviewers participating in the meeting Dr. Johnson chaired traveled to Bethesda. The
proportion of reviewers choosing to connect via video varies from meeting to meeting. “I think you need a critical mass to be in the room,” said Dr. Johnson. “Though I don’t know what that is.” In assessing the effectiveness of hybrid meetings, CSR will look at the ratio of face-to-face and video reviewers and continue to ask reviewers for input.
 
This year, we have piloted five meetings and we expect to pilot about seven more this spring as we
continue to test the technology and develop best practices. Though all of these meetings were held in CSR conference rooms, we plan to pilot a hybrid video meeting at a local hotel this spring.
 
“CSR is proceeding carefully,” said Dr. George Chacko, Director of CSR’s Office of Planning, Evaluation and Analysis. “We want any decision to expand the use of hybrid meetings to be supported by an 
evaluation of meeting data and an understanding of key stakeholder preferences.”
 
Still, there is no doubt there is a lot of enthusiasm for hybrid reviews. “Our reviewers love it,” said Dr. 
Bradley. “Program Officers also like it because they can easily access the meeting from their desktop.”
 
Dr. Ogunseitan shares this enthusiasm. “The video format is clearly my preferred form of participation in
review panels hosted on the East Coast,” he said, “especially where a lot of the reviewing is already done online. The technology worked well, and it will even get better, so I strongly encourage NIH to invest in 
this.”