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Photo of Theo on the panel

ERS International Congress 2018: A patient panellist viewpoint

Theo Schilpzand writes about his experience of being part of a discussion panel at a scientific session at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress 2018:


“Full of interest, I listened to the presentations given by the very reputable speakers on stage. The sessions provided were about research on biological treatment of severe asthma, a theme that was very dear to my heart as I was a patient myself. As the presentations continued, I was beginning to feel a little bit apprehensive due to the large size of the congress hall ... and it being completely fully packed. I began thinking to myself; I'll be there soon, on that stage, in the spotlight of interest …”

The history prior to having been given the diagnosis of asthma was extremely intense and extensive. Every patient with severe asthma knows the long way to getting a clear diagnosis, often in the meantime with severe health problems and hospital admissions. But since I ended up at the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam and was allowed to participate in various studies with biologicals, my own health improved fast. When asked if I also wanted to participate in a panel discussion at the ERS to share my experiences, the answer was off course simply "yes"!

The preparation and support of the European Lung Foundation (ELF) was great. Amongst other things, various e-learning modules on the EPAP site helped me gain knowledge of medical practices and processes, but especially the communication around the event was clear, helpful and friendly. Preparations took place via teleconference to get acquainted with fellow speakers, also with an extensive information package, and the offer of a guide at the event itself if I wanted; this gave me no reason for tension in the process prior to the event.

“The lights that illuminate the stage actually obscure the audience. The large amount of people in the room actually don't stand out, once the panel session starts. The audience become an abstract concept as soon as the conversation starts and all attention is focused on the chairman and fellow speakers. Questions and answers that draw on personal experiences and opinions ... Statements of fellow panellists based on their professional knowledge ... Interest and questions from the audience. And before you know it, the time is up ...”

A panel discussion is a debate in which experts are given the opportunity to discuss and exchange ideas with each other and with people from the audience. This session was accompanied by an experienced chairman, who fired various questions at the panel and gave the audience the opportunity to ask questions. On the one hand, it is exciting, because all kinds of questions can be asked. On the other hand, from a patient’s expert view it is mainly drawing on one's own experiences. Therefore there are no wrong answers.

“Conference hall lights are bright again. Applause,  words of gratitude.  Having a chat with fellow panellists and listeners, who want to ask personal questions. Just to take a last picture and then say hello at the ELF booth. Do not forget to visit that other lecture that also seemed so interesting ...”

Although the ERS 2018 was a major event, with around 22,000 world-wide experts in the field of lung disease treatment, after some preparation, everything was easy to find in the conference centre.

A little healthy tension can't hurt. And above all, speaking, or being a panellist for such an event is a fun and an educational experience, that I would certainly recommend to anyone if the opportunity arises.