CATALYST hosts national conference online because of COVID-19 travel restrictions

By Tyler Griesenbrock
CATALYST scientific editor

Published July 7, 2020


Organization Theory in Health Care (OTHC) 2020 Conference Co-chairs Ann Scheck McAlearney, ScD, MS, Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine, and Daniel Walker, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine, successfully moved the annual conference online, hosting what was originally envisioned as a two-day in-person event here at The Ohio State University instead in a virtual format on May 21 and 22. 

Dr. McAlearney is the Executive Director of CATALYST – the Center for the Advancement of Team Science, Analytics, and Systems Thinking in Health Services and Implementation Science Research – in the College of Medicine at Ohio State. CATALYST was this year’s host organization.

Dr. McAlearney said: “I have regularly attended the annual OTHC conferences, including the first hosted by the University of California, Berkeley, and I was very much looking forward to hosting our colleagues at Ohio State.” 

Instead, Drs. McAlearney and Walker had to reimagine the event to take place online in the face of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The travel restrictions and social distancing measures across the country required us to rethink all aspects of the conference to preserve the intimacy of the event,” Dr. Walker said. “We weren’t sure everything would work, and we unfortunately came to the conclusion that panel presentations wouldn’t translate effectively to an online format. However, we hoped that moving to the Zoom platform would still create opportunities for paper presentations and discussions.” 

Five presentations of the accepted conference papers were pre-recorded and made available for the dozens of invited participants from across the country to view as their time allowed; live discussion sessions were then hosted via Zoom. Presentations covered a variety of topics, including crowdsourcing approaches to innovation, the impact of mergers and acquisitions on clinical decision making, and workplace relationships and job satisfaction. 

“The presenters and the discussants did a remarkable job of being flexible with the changing format of the conference,” Dr. Walker said. “We were thrilled with the level of discourse and active discussion that took place in the online meeting. While it can’t truly replace the in-person networking and socializing, we felt the conference was able to continue the great tradition of OTHC as a forum for deep dives into theory.” 

Online feedback collected after the event was overwhelmingly positive, with most participants who responded stating that the web-based format exceeded or far exceeded their expectations; a similar majority reported being willing to use a virtual format again next year if necessary.

Because of the disruption caused by COVID-19, Drs. McAlearney and Walker have already volunteered to make a second attempt to host an in-person conference in 2021 at Ohio State if such a gathering is permissible under public health guidelines at that time.

OTHC is the only U.S. association that is dedicated exclusively to research on health care organization and management theory, and the OTHC Conference has been conducted annually since 1999 with a different host university each year.

For more information about OTHC, visit; for more information about CATALYST, visit