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Meeting report: summary of Day 1 of the 2020 ISMPP European Meeting


The 2020 European Meeting of the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) was held in London on 21–22 January. A total of 350 delegates attended; the highest number to date for the European Meeting.

This year, the meeting focussed on ‘Precision Communication: Achieving Clarity, Reach and Value’. Day one of the meeting was opened by Jane Nunn and Rhiannon Meaden (Complete HealthVizion), followed by a fascinating ‘year in review’, thought-provoking presentations and lively panel discussions. A summary of the first day of the meeting is provided below to benefit those who were unable to attend, and as a timely reminder of the key topics for those who did.

A summary of the second day of the meeting is available here.

#WhatDid2019DoForUs?: Year in Review

Anne-Lisa Fisher (Boehringer Ingelheim) kicked off the meeting with a whistle-stop tour of 12 months of frenetic activity in medical publications and related areas. She began by highlighting the ever-expanding role of the publication professional, as captured in Robert J. Matheis’ recent New Year message:

“Our professional remit now incorporates a level of responsibility for ensuring that the data contained in a publication are actually being used to improve health care decision making” Robert J. Matheis, ISMPP President and CEO

Lack of trust in science and the continuing impact of ‘fake news’ were key themes in 2019. As one example, Fisher highlighted recent reports on the resurgence of measles, driven in part by social media’s perpetuation of rogue evidence around vaccination. In November, one study reported a positive correlation between levels of mistrust in scientists or journalists and media literacy scores. While France and certain other countries are taking legislative steps to combat fake news, others such as Finland are focusing on educating their citizens to detect falsehoods or biased reporting.

torn paper revealing the phrase "Fake News"

The still pervasive maxim of ‘publish or perish’ means that the number of journal articles retracted each year continues to rise, although enhanced tools for detection of fraudulent author behaviour have helped reduce the rate of increase. In some academic institutions, researchers must now have their work vetted and screened for errors prior to journal submission. The first few weeks of 2020 saw the release of the REAPPRAISED checklist, a tool intended to “to help readers, journal editors and anyone else assess whether a paper has flaws that call its integrity into question”.

A related topic also discussed by Fisher was that of predatory publishing, an issue addressed in the July joint position statement from ISMPP and the American and European Medical Writers Associations (AMWA/EMWA). Although the number of predatory journals is ever increasing and no systematic tools for their detection yet exist, a level of reassurance was provided in a recent Nature article which concluded that papers published in predatory journals have little scientific impact.

Fisher also provided attendees with an overview of recent developments in publication best practice, including the June release of the Good Practice for Conference Abstracts and Presentations (GPCAP) guidelines, and other topics such as open access. Fisher finished her talk by noting the rumours that surfaced from the USA toward the end of 2019 regarding the notion that President Trump might soon issue an executive order mandating the immediate, free release of publications resulting from federally sponsored research. In December, a group of over 135 scientific research and publishing organizations sent a letter to President Trump expressing their opposition to these plans. The final outcome of these developments remains to be seen.

#ImproveYourAudienceReach: Reaching our publication audiences

Social Network Concept

The second session of the day, which was moderated by Fiona Plunkett (Articulate Science), focused on effectively reaching publication audiences.

Speaking from the publisher’s perspective, Joe Adams (Wiley) noted that the ‘modern’ scientific paper hasn’t moved too far from the first scientific manuscript published in 1665. Innovations around this format are emerging though, with publishers offering infographics, videos and enhanced PDF documents that increase engagement with scientific content. As an example, Adams presented a case study of a journal article that was published alongside a full suite of innovative enhancements which, as a result, achieved a 5x higher citation rate and over 50x higher Altmetric attention score compared with a non-enhanced counterpart.

New features should enable manuscripts to evolve and change format over time

When later questioned, Adams noted that while we would ideally update the structure of scientific papers themselves, the gradual addition of new features should enable manuscripts to evolve and change the format over time, without harming scientific comprehension in the meantime.

Moving on to discuss the digital trends that shape our access to information, Paul Hatton (Synaptik [Nucleus group]) highlighted the varied roles that digital products must fulfil. These range from distilling the ever-growing volume of available data into something personal and manageable, to enhancing the reach and comprehension of science for a time-poor audience.

Digital media has become a part of everyday life, but some popular formats have yet to effectively transition into medical communications. Hatton focused on two examples:

  • Voice assistants, which could enable scientific content to be delivered on command; for example by requesting information about congress presentations, asking to hear manuscript supplementary / enhanced content, or setting audio alerts for scientific search criteria.
  • Micro learning, which could enhance the understanding of existing primary sources through, for example, enhanced author videos, interactive quizzes, push notifications, or micro-tutorials.

Toward the end of the session, Jude D’Souza (Spirit) provided a compelling comparison of text-heavy vs visual representations, by demonstrating how important information on a ‘typical’ scientific slide can quickly become lost or misinterpreted – and highlighting the sometimes catastrophic consequences this can have on decision making.

“Present unto others as you would have them present unto you”

Despite the clear benefits of effective presentation, many scientific speakers still fall into these traps fearing that creativity will not be perceived as credible amongst their peers. However, D’Souza noted that the focus of an effective presentation should always be on the story, not on conformity. By focusing on the story, and only then supporting it with visual cues, the audience can focus on what they really come for, the expert speaker and the context that they provide. The slides that accompany this should be there to help the audience, not as a crutch for the presenter.

At the end of the session D’Souza reminded the audience “Present unto others as you would have them present unto you”.

Keynote presentation: Information is Beautiful

In his keynote presentation, the data-journalist and information designer David McCandless considered how data visualisation can be used to distil huge quantities of data and information into infographics and visualisations that can generate new insights and understanding.

Information is beautiful

Drawing on experience gained while working at The Guardian and Wired magazine, McCandless discussed how he now uses data visualisation to turn complex data sets into simple and beautiful graphics that can uncover new patterns and connections. Case studies from areas as diverse as military spending, evidence for nutritional supplements and break-ups according to Facebook relationship status illustrated how using visualisation can be used to “point a camera at the data” and see the world in a new way.

With the growing focus on the use of “big data” to inform and enhance healthcare, questions around how best to analyse the huge amounts of information and communicate the findings couldn’t be more pressing. From medical experts through to the general public, there is an urgent need to communicate information in ways that are clear and concise, but also robust. The data visualisation techniques illustrated by McCandless showed how they can be used to avoid information overload without losing the richness of the dataset, gain new insights, and develop compelling stories that are firmly rooted in the evidence.

The fascinating keynote presentation certainly showed that data doesn’t have to be dull, and that information can indeed be beautiful.


In the first of the afternoon’s sessions, attendees were given the opportunity to share their own experiences and opinions, by attending two of the following 11 roundtable discussions:

  • Authorship: Practical Challenges
  • GDPR: Working in Harmony
  • Aligning Perspectives on Review Articles
  • Open Access to Scholarly Content
  • Considerations for Patient Engagement
  • Country-Level Publications
  • Meaningful Metrics
  • Publishing and Interpreting RWE versus Clinical Trial Data
  • Advisory Boards and Steering Committees – Maximising Value
  • Pre-prints – Best Practices and Evolving Approaches
  • User Experience (UX) Within the Publications Space.

#WinWithNewPartnerships: Achieving precision communications through novel publication partnerships

This panel discussion, moderated by Norbert Brunhuber (Vertex Pharmaceuticals), examined how pharmaceutical companies, medical societies, journals and digital consultants can better work together to achieve common communication aims.

The panel members were:

  • Michael Haessler (Roche)
  • Michael Alexander (European Society of Cardiology)
  • Joe Adams (Wiley)
  • Liz Allen (F1000 Research)
  • Ben Harbour (Across Health).

Brunhuber started the session with an overview of the evolving landscape of medical communications. He noted how communication preferences are changing, with consumption of online medical journals increasing and attendance at international congresses decreasing.  Although digital consumption varies by age group, there is common ground to be had: all healthcare professionals are looking for richer content and better ease of use.

Social Network Online Sharing Connection Concept

Haessler reminded the audience that the core principles of academic publishing remain unchanged, but information is now disseminated differently. A 2018 STM report noted that healthcare professionals accessed an average 250 publications a year, but these were likely to represent brief touchpoints rather than full article browsing. Allen further emphasised the importance of engagement with research outputs, highlighting lay summaries as a quick-to-digest format.

Adams distilled the core components of future medical publications into community (audience), content (enhanced vs classic) and vehicle (communication channel). Alexander described how he would like to see scientific communications improve their pertinence by focusing on improved audience features and better clarity in terms of language, structure and interactivity, foreseeing future medical publishing as one message disseminated through multiple channels.

Standardisation was a key theme of the panel discussion. Despite keen interest in the ‘Article of the Future’, the absence of validated tools to evaluate the utility of supplemental features has led to reticent uptake. Specifically, Adams highlighted the difficulty for publishers to support routine audio articles. With no framework for journals to universally offer new digital formats, there are issues with journal responsiveness for non-standard offerings that can critically impact on publication timelines.

Allen and Alexander found common ground in the ethical driver to publish all data, including ‘neutral’ and ‘negative’ findings. Allen reminded the audience that Plan S aimed to bring open access to data as well as publications. Despite the requirement from some biomedical journals for mandated data sharing statements, there is no standard format to provide these data and, subsequently, the content provided varies in quality and completeness. Allen suggested that journals work with research funder platforms to publish a variety of materials, including methods/protocols, highlighting the NIHR Signals articles, which summarise the latest research from the NHS-funded National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) for health care decision makers, as an example.

As a digital specialist, Harbour underlined the potential of innovations such as augmented reality and health apps, but quoted Paul Hudson (Sanofi CEO) when he warned pharma against “chasing shiny objects” until their utility has been validated. Twitter is seen as a time-sensitive modality with maximum relevance during real-time congress reporting. Virtual congresses may come into play as attendance at traditional congresses declines; and for those not attending, a daily email summary may be a popular alternative source of information.

When probed on how to increase congress attendance, Alexander highlighted abstract submission and registration reminders as important touchpoints to raise the congress profile. He suggested pharma companies could increase involvement by sponsoring a related supplement or referring to congress material in an Editorial. Adams noted that journals work hard with authors/societies to publish key manuscripts to coincide with related congress activity. The working relationship between pharmaceutical companies, medical societies and journals is often complicated by compliance barriers and can benefit from use of independent medical education companies as a neutral medium to administer medical education grants.

ISMPP Update

Updates on ISMPP and the ISMPP CMPP™ certification were provided by Robert Matheis (President & CEO, ISMPP) and Susan Scott (Director, Scott Pharma Solutions), respectively. Matheis, introduced himself as the new President & CEO, having taken the reins from previous president Al Weigel in July 2019. During this introduction he referred to his background as a clinical psychologist, highlighted the evolving role of medical communicators, and encouraged greater involvement in the ongoing actions of ISMPP. Scott discussed the growth and ongoing success of the CMPP programme, and reminded attendees of the next opportunity to sit the exam (1–31 March, 2020).

Guided poster tour

In one of the final sessions of the day, attendees could join a poster tour, which included the following presentations:

  • Enhanced content to complement traditional publications: a case study of benefits and challenges (Valerie Moss, et al)
  • Defining a process for developing and disseminating abstract plain language summaries for scientific congresses: A case study (Dheepa Chari, et al)
  • Obtaining Retrospective Open Access Publishing: a Shire Experience (Christopher P Rains, et al)
  • Registration and use of ORCID by pharma (Sarah Sabir, et al).

Member proposal: Medical publications: a profession fit for the future?

In a session running concurrently to the guided poster tour, an expert panel considered the evolving medical publications environment and key changes that are likely to impact the profession over the next 5−10 years. The discussion focused on the skill sets that will be important for the publication professional of the future and how people with these skills and capabilities can be attracted to and retained within the industry.

2020 happy new year concept

The panel members were:

  • Robert Matheis (ISMPP)
  • Onisillos Sekkides (Lancet Microbe)
  • Susan Wieting (Takeda)
  • Tim Day (Innovative Strategic Communications)
  • Jackie Marchington (Caudex).

A focus for the panel’s discussion was the future-proofing of recruitment to the industry. With the costs of higher education rising much faster than wages, the viability of continuing to set a PhD or higher degree as an entry level requirement was questioned. It was suggested that it might be time for a more rounded approach to attracting and evaluating applicants, not only to expand the pool of candidates but to reflect the growing importance of skills such as digital savviness and strong teamworking needed (often across continents).

With the costs of higher education rising fast, can we continue to demand a PhD?

Lots has been written about how attitudes and expectations of people entering the work force have changed – much of it speculative – but there does seem to be a disconnect between established “baby boomers” and newly arrived “millennials”. The challenges this poses for managers working with recent recruits to guide their professional development and encourage the retention of talent within the profession were discussed. Rather than berating the differences, we need to recognise and understand them and put in place structures that reflect their needs and play to their strengths.

Poster discussions

Day one was rounded off with poster presentations from ISMPP members, showcasing the depth and breadth of the research carried out within the community.

Watch this space — day 2 summary coming soon!

Written as part of a Media Partnership between ISMPP and The Publication Plan, by Aspire Scientific, an independent medical writing agency led by experienced editorial team members, and supported by MSc and/or PhD-educated writers.


With thanks to our sponsors, Aspire Scientific Ltd and NetworkPharma Ltd

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