What’s new ISMPP EU 2020? Do you reach your audience?

ISMPP Europe 2020 focused on ‘Precision communication: achieving clarity, reach and value’ and attracted a record attendance of over 350 medical publication professionals (MPPs) from communication agencies, pharma companies and publishers. Here, we present the hot topics from the two-day meeting, which was packed with 8 panel discussions, 11 roundtables, 2 keynote presentations, around 30 poster presentations, and included over 20 exhibitors and sponsors.

This was 2019 – Challenges and new ways forward

The meeting kicked off with a summary of the key challenges faced by the medical publication industry and the wider scientific community in 2019. The leading topic was the increasing lack of trust in scientists and scientific data and the potential drivers for this, including fake news and poor (social) media literacy. Given the power of social media and the fact that around 80% of online users search the internet for health topics, the audience was reminded to utilise these channels and to continue to strive for a patient-centric focus when disseminating data, which may include reporting back clinical research findings to study participants.

Importantly, the speakers noted that publication trends themselves may negatively impact trust in scientific data, particularly in a ‘publish or perish’ environment in which predatory journals thrive (AMWA–EMWA–ISMPP Joint Position Statement on Predatory Publishing), and retractions of potentially hasty publications are increasingly common. While these are indeed worrying trends, there is hope yet: 6/10 manuscripts published in predatory journals are not (or rarely) cited and while rates of retractions may be on the rise, they are overall slowing down due to self-policing by journals and publishers.

Of course, 2019 could not have been summarised without highlighting the dramatic environmental challenges we are all facing and the role air travel within the pharmaceutical industry may play. The audience was reminded that new approaches to meetings and print materials exist, and that digital solutions may present a more eco-friendly and more convenient way forward.

Out of reach? – Breaking through the noise and engaging audiences

A hot topic throughout the two-day meeting was the challenge of targeting and reaching audiences in a world of not only around 28,000 peer-reviewed journals but also a multitude of other routes of disseminating data and sharing information. Speakers highlighted that while the world around us is changing rapidly, particularly in the digital space, the format of medical and scientific manuscripts has barely changed over the past two centuries. In a world in which an overwhelming vastness of information is instantly available, it is essential to tailor and individualise content, and to make this content more digestible and attractive to readers. Just as other media have done, the medical publication industry will need to adapt to cut through the noise and reach their audiences by exploring ‘new’ formats of data dissemination, including infographics, videos, sound bites and other digital options. While using these formats may not come naturally to some within our data-driven industry, manuscript enhancements have been shown to increase altmetric scores and citation rates, and can therefore be considered a useful approach for increasing readership.

In a world of distractions and shortening attention spans, alternative routes of data dissemination need to be explored and utilised. These include social media and other digital techniques, which require robust strategies, ideally informed by employing social listening techniques. In addition to publication in peer-reviewed journals, data could also be provided in a more immersive and

interactive environment and as part of modernised learning. This may include author and expert videos to explain complex data sets, mechanism-of-action videos and knowledge self-tests. While the speakers acknowledged that there may be challenges with these ‘newer’ approaches, including the notion of ‘creativity versus credibility’, they emphasised that MPPs could play a key part in navigating this landscape and in convincing audiences that creative approaches to data dissemination can still be scientifically sound and credible.

While there may be many different approaches, there was a consensus that supplementary and enhanced publication content – and the use of ‘new’ ways and formats of data dissemination and communication – should be part of any strategic publication plan in order to maximise uptake and reach all key audiences.

Smaller portions – Making clinical data digestible

Another hot topic of the ISMPP EU meeting was how to best communicate complex and large data sets, the importance of which was underlined by a fascinating keynote presentation by David McCandless under the motto ‘data are beautiful’. David emphasised the importance of distilling relevant content from large data sets by directing concrete and well-defined questions at the data. He explained that the human brain is wired to identify and process patterns rather than numbers, and that graphical visualisation is therefore a key tool to cut through a seemingly endless sea of information.

These insights were closely connected to the considerations of how MPPs can best improve audience reach in our fast-paced, digital world, and again reminded us of the importance of visual and byte-sized delivery of complex data. A potential way of delivering data in small portions could be ‘micro-learning’ approaches which can take the shape of supplementary materials to manuscripts, e.g. infographics or small videos to explain a drug’s mechanism of action, but also more interactive micro-tutorials and apps. Even for ‘standard communications’ such as congress presentations, it is worthwhile considering how to best crystallise and visualise key data. We are all familiar with the motto of ‘less is more’ when it comes to slides, but thinking of this from a perspective of enhanced data visualisation may enable presenters to provide data in a digestible format, without losing content or distracting from the key narrative of their presentation.

Focus: The rise of real-world evidence – Building on clinical trial data

A panel-discussion and roundtable explored the opportunities and challenges in publishing real-world evidence (RWE), as these data sets are becoming more acceptable but are still not well understood. Although RWE studies lack randomisation and control and are hence prone to bias, the data should be considered complementary to that from randomised clinical studies since these often lack generalisability to the real-world patient population.

There are various reporting guidelines that can help develop robust publications on RWE. STROBE (STrengthening the Reporting of OBservational studies in Epidemiology) and MOOSE (Meta-analysis Of Observational Studies in Epidemiology) are the key guidelines, and the EQUATOR Network is a great source for all sorts of reporting guidelines. During the discussions it became clear that the lack of journals that accept publications on RWE is still a problem, although this might reflect a difficulty in finding suitable peer reviewers rather than explicit journal policy. Most participants preferred to submit to the usual clinical journals, and target specialised RWE journals only for methodology papers. RWE was considered reasonably easy to publish if the studies had a clear protocol and analysis plan from the start, and in effect were treated in the same way as a normal randomised controlled trial. Difficulties most often arise when post hoc hypothesis-generating analyses are targeted for publication. Solutions suggested included greater standardisation on the topic in terms of design/reporting and a mechanism for registering RWE.

Would you like to know more? – Increasing readership and improving research via open access

Open Access was not only a key topic at the ISMPP EU meeting but is at the forefront of the mind of many MPPs and researchers. Many agree that making publications openly available not only boosts readership but also improves research due to immediate accessibility of data; however, publication strategies and considerations often fail to stretch beyond the ‘traditional’ scope of open access journals. The speakers highlighted pre-print services, while not peer reviewed, as a valuable tool to make data available without delays, particularly to further research but also to allow for real-time scientific exchange and early feedback on data which may be on its way to publication by a peer-reviewed journal. This may be something for MPPs to consider as an element of publication and data dissemination strategies. The speakers also raised the idea of platforms on which data and methodologies, that may otherwise not reach the stage of a peer-reviewed publication, could be shared in this open access environment and are therefore not ‘lost’. However, the speakers cautioned that peer-review processes would likely need to be put into place for these types of data-sharing platforms.

Finally, ‘new’ audiences, including engaged and educated patients and carers, should be considered when it comes to open access publications and/or data sharing. Considerations should not only include the availability of research without a paywall but also the introduction of plain language materials to accompany publications and therefore deliver true open access for all key audiences.

It’s complicated – Increasing clarity with plain language summaries and via patient engagement

Plain language summaries may have been one of the hottest topics at this year’s meeting and were the subject of several panel and roundtable discussions. There was a strong consensus that plain language summaries and other plain language materials are urgently needed, not only to make research accessible to patients but also to allow non-specialist health care professionals (HCPs) and health authorities a more effective and less time-consuming screening of key literature. Speakers, including patient advocate and consultant Simon Stones, highlighted the lack of accessibility of research data by patients and emphasised that even when patients are well informed and well read, they may still struggle with some of the language found in ‘traditional’ publications and particularly within abstracts.

While the speakers agreed on the importance of plain language summaries, they shared their insights into several challenges in the current medical publishing landscape:

  • There are many considerations regarding compliance and no widely-used guidelines for patient engagement and payments for their support in the development of plain language and other materials, e.g. patients as reviewers or authors.
  • At this point in time, there are few journals that accept plain language summaries.
  • Plain language abstracts may not be achievable within PubMed’s 250-word limit for abstracts.
  • PubMed currently does not allow for more visual or infographic abstracts which may hamper more creative approaches to plain language summaries.
  • Most patients may not be familiar with PubMed or similar databases.

Speakers encouraged the audience to help drive the change needed to overcome these challenges and mentioned that guidelines for plain language summaries and patient engagement are underway. They emphasised that plain language summaries and patient communications should be included in communication and publication strategies from an early stage to ensure that compliance and legal teams can review the plans early on and advise on process. Further, new ways of bringing research findings to patients should be explored to ensure that patients not only understand but also find relevant publications easily.

Another topic touched on during the discussions on plain language materials was the fact that in today’s healthcare environment of specialists, the patient may often be the only person aware of their overall health and disease history. In this environment it is important to empower the patient to be a key stakeholder in their own healthcare journey, which may be achieved by making not only clinical data, but also patients’ personal health records easier to understand and monitor. Again, it was proposed by the speakers that this may be achieved by improved and more creative visualisation of data and digital solutions. This may not only help patients to understand their health data but could also feedback into RWE repositories and help to build and improve care strategies and treatment algorithms.

Here are links to some references shared during the patient engagement roundtable: · Patient engagement throughout drug development lifecycles · EUPATI guidance documents on patient involvement · Writing lay summaries: what medical writers need to know · Guidance for BMJ patient and public reviewers

A whole new world – The evolution of medical publication professionals

In the age of smartphones and social media, the focus from ‘traditional’ dissemination of data is increasingly shifting towards how to navigate these technologies, for example, by incorporating adult learning systems, data visualisation and contextualisation into publication plans. Publications alone do not address how new treatments fit into the HCPs treatment regimen, how they can be best explained to patients and who may already have experience prescribing the treatment. Thus, it is important that publications are supported by a framework of practical guidance, discussions by key experts and experiences from larger clinics. To navigate this landscape, which is much broader than publications, MPPs are required to have multidisciplinary skillsets of increasing complexity in an ever-changing work environment. MPPs are required to evolve into more strategic roles with a focus on improved audience reach through enhanced and more targeted publications, as well as newer media.

During the ISMPP EU meeting, speakers emphasised the importance of a holistic approach by MPPs when it comes to communication planning and the increasing need for collaboration between functions within the pharmaceutical industry to develop successful strategies. MPPs need to work as part of multi-disciplinary teams, including representatives from Med Affairs, Commercial marketing and Digital, HEOR & Market Access, PR/Media and Advocacy (patients). Industry internal communications, including Medical Affairs plans, MSL strategies and trainings, and SCPs and lexicons, are a key foundation of successful communication and publication planning. Informed by internally-aligned strategy, publication teams should be at the forefront of opening up new communication avenues and drive the optimisation of publication value. While historically, MPPs may have had a narrower focus on dissemination of data and data-driven publication planning, our roles are becoming much broader and we need to become integral to the more strategic aspects of multi-channel communication planning.

Focus: Ensuring consistent communication – Building a scientific communications platform

Our very own Customer Strategy Director, Judy Brownsword, moderated an engaging session on the purpose of scientific communication platforms (SCPs) and key considerations for their development. The speakers described how an SCP provides the strategic foundation for a product’s medical communication plan to ensure accurate and consistent language through all communication activities and across cross-functional teams. The SCP may be accompanied by a lexicon – a compendium of appropriate terminology to use (or not to use!) when describing the product.

An SCP typically consists of Pillars supported by Key Scientific Statements, which are in turn supported by Evidence Statements. The pillars provide the framework for the SCP and help prioritise the story flow. Each pillar may be paired with an objective, which describes the desired strategic outcome, and the Key Scientific statements define clear, coordinated, communication points that are aligned with each pillar/objective. Finally, the evidence statements provide detailed referenced data to support the SCP.

A key challenge to ensuring that the SCP is used consistently by all stakeholders, is making it easily accessible and making sure that updates are effectively rolled out. Many companies are turning to digital solutions such as Bioscript’s proprietary tool SCoPe to manage this process. Please contact Judy if you would like a demonstration of this tool.

Future directions

The future is digital and may mean an increasing shift towards new and more interactive approaches to data dissemination and communication. The sooner MPPs learn to navigate newer media, the more we will be able to increase audience reach and to improve outcomes for patients.

Digital approaches and social media are not only changing the publication landscape but will hopefully also result in more climate-friendly approaches within our industry. These may include virtual meetings, and an increased utilisation of digital media to reach out to HCPs – this may be as simple as regular updates via email and replacing print-materials by digital content, which may include interactive visuals and infographics, as well as video and soundbites.

Authored by Hannah Fleetwood, MSc, ISMPP CMPPTM and Judy Brownsword, PhD, ISMPP CMPPTM, on behalf of the Bioscript team


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