Some Thoughts on R / Medicine 2020

by Joseph Rickert

The third annual R / Medicine Conference was held online this year from August 27th to August 29th and was an unqualified success. The last minute pivot from small, in-person conference, which was to be held onsite at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, CHOP, to a virtual event turned out to be a catalyst for positive change. Under the imaginative, and tireless leadership of conference chair Dr. Stephan Kadauke, R / Medicine grew from a small R conference to become a medical conference with international reach. The map below shows that the conference attracted international attendees from forty-three countries. (Click on the markers to see country and number of attendees.)

Four hundred fifty-two people attended the live event and four hundred thirty-one watched the replay. Equally impressive is that approximately sixteen percent of conference registrants supplied titles which suggest that they are medical doctors. This figure does not include medical students, nurses, or ancillary clinical staff.

Much of the success in attracting the target audience this year was very likely attributable to the effort that the organizers made to reach out to sponsors familiar to clinicians. In addition to the R Consortium, R Consortium member companies Procogia and RStudio, The Yale School of Public Health (the conference host for its first two years), this year R / Medicine attracted the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the American Association of Clinical Chemistry, AACC, and the Association for Mass Spectrometry & Advances in the Clinical Lab, MSACL. The panel discussion Integrating R into Clinical Practice, held during virtual US MSACL 2020 Conference in July was particularly effective in spreading the word among clinicians.

Another key element of the success of the R / Medicine 2020 was that the Program Committee chaired by Beth Atkinson looked beyond the usual cadre of R luminaries and assembled a roster of speakers with deep experience in medical related applications. Keynote talks from Daniela Witten, Robert Gentleman, Ewin Harrison, and Patrick Mathias ranged from a sophisticated analysis of a common mistake in predictive modeling and a glimpse into the future of computational genetics to recent work related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pre-conference workshops were delivered by Stephan Kadauke: (Intro to R for Clinicians), and Alison Hill (Intro to Machine Learning with Tidymodels). Other talks covered R education, reproducible research, operational clinical workflows, clinical reporting, and statistical analyses. My favorite talk title The MD in .rmd: Teaching Clinical Data Analytics with R by Ted Laderas perfectly captured the spirit of R / Medicine 2020.

All of the keynote and regular talks are available on the R Consortium’s Youtube Channel. Click on “PLAYLISTS” and select the first on the left.

The big takeaways from R / Medicine 2020 are that R is an established tool in clinical applications. Doctors are teaching doctors about R. And, as knowledge about R propagates, R use in clinical workflows is increasing..

Be sure to mark your 2021 calendar with reminder about R / Medicine for sometime in late August. Also note that sixty-eight percent of the folks who filled out the post conference survey indicated that they would be interested in a hybrid event next year even if progress with mitigating the risks of COVID-19 permits an in person event next year. So the R / Medicine team is going to be thinking hard about how to keep their international following. Moreover, the team hopes to be able to offer R / Medicine branded events throughout the year. Please watch the R Consortium Blog for news and updates.

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