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Meeting report: summary of Day 1 of the 16th Annual Meeting of ISMPP

2020 US Meeting Banner-Virtual_web

The 16th Annual Meeting of the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) was held on 16–18 June 2020. The 3-day meeting which, at the start of the year, was expected to be a face-to-face gathering in Washington DC, was instead held as a virtual event for the first time due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The ISMPP organisers overcame the challenges of holding sessions virtually to deliver another successful annual meeting, attracting 379 attendees!

Each of the 3 days focused on a different theme, starting with ‘Open Science’, followed by ‘Effective Communication’ and finally, ‘Evolution/Evolving Role of Med Comms’.

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.

Read our summaries of Day 2 and Day 3 of the meeting.

Opening remarks

Catherine Skobe (2019-2020 ISMPP Chair) and Todd Parker (2019-2020 ISMPP Chair-Elect) opened this landmark virtual ISMPP meeting by reminding everyone of the importance of evidence-based reporting, citing the recent retraction of two manuscripts focused on COVID-19 research from The Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine due to a lack of data transparency.

The future of medical communications – a visual journey

In this session, the following graphical representation of what the future of medical communications might look like over the next 5 years was presented. This visual journey illustrates the expanding role of the medical communication professional, using skills in story telling combined with scientific knowledge to disseminate information rapidly and transparently, via concurrent multichannel platforms. The session can be viewed here.

Future of medcomms

Credit: Julie Stuart (Making Ideas Visible) and MedThink SciCom, Inc.

Keynote: 2020 and beyond: How the “open” research paradigm will impact the next generation research dissemination

The first Keynote presentation of the meeting was given by Niamh O’Connor (PLOS), who noted that while everyone is familiar with open access, the concept of open science may be less well known. Open science ensures the free accessibility and usability of:

  • scholarly publications
  • data that result from scholarly research
  • methodologies including code or algorithms used to generate data.

Open the door

O’Connor explained that open science is integral for trust and journals have a responsibility to enforce standards and encourage full data sharing where possible. Indeed, there appears to be a citation advantage when data are available. Other processes that can promote open science include:

  • protocol availability
    • PLOS encourages authors to upload protocols to the repository, io, thereby obtaining a unique DOI that can be linked to the methods section of the manuscript
  • registered reports
    • these publications are peer reviewed at the design phase and then again after writing with the knowledge that if the methods have been followed and the data are complete, the report will be published regardless of the study outcome
  • preprints
    • these can provide recognition of early research and allow authors to update results prior to full publication. There is a move to encourage the review of preprints
  • published peer review
    • the article’s review history, including author responses, is published alongside the article.

O’Connor concluded by highlighting the future benefits of open science: greater availability of information, a more inclusive research process, and quicker dissemination of data thereby supporting faster discovery and innovation.

For the present purpose: using medical rhetoric to enhance scientific communication in an open world

Lisa DeTora (Hofstra University) guided the audience in applying the principles of Aristotle’s Art of Rhetoric (a guide to persuasive writing) to medical communications.

New audiences require different communication approaches

Traditional scientific publications aimed at physicians assume a certain level of subject knowledge, scientific literacy (‘Habits of Mind’) and vocabulary that may not be present in the general public or in readers from specific disciplines, such as regulatory and health technology assessment. Medical interpretation of words such as ‘safety’ may be confusing for an audience that interprets ‘safe’ to mean entirely without harm, while terms such as ‘risk/benefit’ do not relate to everyday language. Without adapting to the audience, medical communications can create a heavy reading burden.

The scientific mind is trained to constantly re-evaluate the evidence base and to question the current paradigm or ‘status quo’. This contrasts the public culture of melodrama where characters and situations are often cast as either ‘good’ or ‘evil’. Without scope for subtlety, there is little room for scientific values of investigation, questioning and discovery. New areas of research of high interest to the general public, but where little is known, such as with COVID‑19, present difficulties as people are forced into a discourse that is science-based without room for melodrama.

How to apply Aristotle’s principles of rhetoric to medical communications

DeTora described the pertinent elements of Aristotle’s principles of rhetoric that can be applied to scientific communication in an evolving landscape.

Key vocabulary for understanding Aristotelian principles of rhetoric include:

  • techne – skill, craftsmanship, applied knowledge
  • phronesis – practical wisdom
  • praxis – getting things done
  • ethos – character/ethics
  • arete – from a position of moral character and virtue
  • eunoia – out of good will

Reinforcing sites of applied knowledge (techne) and practical wisdom (phronesis) can inform publications practice. For example, publication practice is increasingly shifting from clinical wisdom (eg the Declaration of Helsinki) to broader principles that explain authorship standards. Guidance documents such as EQUATOR guidelines and Good Publication Practice 3 (GPP3) encompass the principles of phronesis, while the ICMJE recommendations have evolved from praxis-based requirements to now embody both phronesis and techne. As well as publishing data, we should also consider whether our work is guiding readers to sites of practical wisdom, such as treatment guidelines.

DeTora suggested that authorship issues could be addressed by applying the principle of ethos. The ICMJE guidelines call upon authors’ moral responsibility to have contributed intellectually to the work. It should also be considered whether the inclusion of an author builds their own credibility as well as that of the paper. This may require differentiating ‘any’ intellectual activity from intellectual contribution to the core subject matter of a paper.

In summary, publication professionals may be able to ease everyday processes and interactions with key stakeholders by keeping goodwill, good sense, ethics, and competence in mind.

Editor’s panel: I’m an Editor – ask me anything!

Question Mark Speech Bubble Isolated On Blue

Several topics were covered in this lively, fast-paced session focussing on key issues affecting scientific publishing from the point of view of a panel of medical journal editors.

Moderated by Kelly Soldavin (Taylor & Francis Group), the panel included Caroline Halford (Adis, Springer Healthcare), Alan Moore (Wolters Kluwer), Niamh O’Connor (PLOS) and Shawn Morton (Wiley).

Open access

The open access movement started 20 years ago and is rapidly becoming the primary – and in the future, possibly the only – model in medical research publishing. Proponents of open access believe that published research should be available to everyone to read and share, and that the cost of open access publishing should be seen as part of research funding, to ensure that the results of scientific research are freely accessible to everyone. With open access becoming more commonplace, understanding the regulation and licensing terms is important. If in doubt, the editors recommend speaking to the publisher or editor at the target journal about their open access policies and options.

Predatory publishing

Issues with predatory journals continue to be problematic for authors. Predatory publishers are becoming more sophisticated, with some going to great lengths in their attempts to replicate colours, logos, styles and names of genuine journals, making it difficult for authors to differentiate between genuine and predatory titles.

Hints and tips for identifying predatory journals:

  • No evidence of peer review.
  • Predatory journals aggressively pursue the article processing charge, often before acceptance.
  • Genuine journals keep their editorial process completely separate from any payments.
  • If a journal has a Paypal link on the home page, it may be predatory: genuine journals rarely ask for upfront payments.
  • Websites exist to help identify predatory journals, for example Check. Submit and the Directory of Open Access Journals.

In order to tackle the scourge of predatory publishers in scientific research, all stakeholders need to work together to raise awareness, and to identify predatory journals and more ethical methods of publishing.

Ethical considerations for authors

COPE, ICMJE and GPP3 provide important advice that authors should adhere to when planning and developing their publications. There are a number of ethical issues that journal editors commonly encounter.

  • Author expectations may need to be managed to ensure that all research is published where possible, as recommended in GPP3. There are many ethical, peer-reviewed, open access journals that may be approached to publish research that has not been accepted elsewhere.
  • Following publication of GPP3, prospective registration of clinical trials is mandated for publication in a large proportion of journals, however there are some journals that don’t require prospective trial registration.
  • Self-plagiarising remains an issue, especially when authors are publishing a number of abstracts or manuscripts from the same research project. Recycling text is not permitted, although editors will often work with authors to rewrite sections where self-plagiarisation has been identified.

Submission to publication

The majority of editors on the panel agreed that presubmission enquiries should be encouraged with as much, detailed information given as possible to enable the editor to advise on where the article would best fit.

All journals publish instructions for authors and it is important that these are followed closely – some journals are starting to use artificial intelligence to identify submissions that don’t follow the rules! However, in the COVID era there is a drive to make submitting easier and quicker, and in future it may be possible to submit to several journals at once, with less complex submission requirements.

Article enhancements

There has been a huge rise recently in the use of article enhancements. Digital features such as videos, video abstracts, patient lay summaries (PLS) and infographics provide quick and digestible content. Quantitative and qualitative data now show that articles with digital content are downloaded and read more than those without. COVID may have played a role in the increased use of digital features, as there is currently less opportunity to present to an audience face-to-face. PubMed is now indexing some digital content (such as PLS) and has created guidelines on the contents that are required for indexing.

close up on man hand using tab pad on laptop to working about futuristic of social media marketing icon for internet network technology and business concept


Unsurprisingly, there has been a surge in articles addressing COVID-19 research in recent months, and research carried out since the outbreak is increasing in quality as well as quantity. There has also been an increase in submission of other types of publications relating to COVID-19 such as podcasts, which allow authors and editors to address a subject in a short amount of time. This unprecedented global health crisis has validated the power of open science and has been a pivotal moment for the movement. Publishers have rapidly made large amounts of COVID-19 data available to all and have put together portals to make access easy and quick.

One challenge in the COVID era is how to alleviate pressure on reviewers. This has been achieved in part by allowing one single review step and subsequent transfer to other journals – and even transfer between publishers – without need for further peer review. This has allowed rapid publication and dissemination of research.

Roundtable discussions

In this interactive session, attendees were able to join the following roundtable discussions:

  • Integrity and open science –what should we do?
  • To peas in a pod – how can ORCID help, and then some
  • Patient engagement and clinical trial summaries
  • Patient reported outcomes
  • Preprints for industry

Evolving the process and extending the reach of scientific platforms

This session, moderated by Ken Pomerantz (Alexion Pharmaceuticals), focussed on evolving best practices for building a robust and clinically relevant scientific platform.

Hand arranging wood block stacking as step stair. Business concept for growth success process

The evolution of the scientific platform

Rebecca Rozich (Ashfield Healthcare) kicked off the session by emphasising that the development of a scientifically robust and clinically relevant scientific platform is a critical first step in building a strong communications program. It provides consistency regarding how to describe key data, clarity of the scientific narrative and will ultimately inform publication goals and tactics. Rozich outlined three key steps for building a strong platform:

  1. Inform: insight and audit phase.
  2. Refine: draft platform assessment and confirmation of communication themes and messages.
  3. Deliver: deliver and engineer content for tactical communication.

Rozich noted that a common challenge when creating a scientific platform is obtaining internal alignment and support from cross-functional teams. As such, she advised using multiple stakeholders and collaborating as early as possible in the development process.

Key stakeholder validation

Next, Angela Jacobson (Ashfield Healthcare) provided an overview of key stakeholder validation. Jacobson recommended engaging a scientific platform champion, internal stakeholders to ensure that individuals who are expected to use the document are aligned with the content and vision, and external stakeholders for validation. Internal alignment can be obtained through 1 on 1 interviews (for example via calls, email exchange or web-based surveys) and through collaboration workshops designed to gain cross-functional feedback and alignment following first draft development. Pertinent in the current climate, Jacobson discussed the best practice for a successful virtual experience. She suggested:

  • creating an original meeting opening, for example sharing a patient story or inspirational video
  • providing the agenda in bitesize chunks
  • facilitating a creative icebreaker using technology
  • including break out rooms, chat boxes and polls to increase audience engagement
  • using a moderator to keep the meeting moving
  • considering IT support
  • being mindful of time zones
  • facilitating a connected experience, for example by providing problem solving experiences/challenges with post-meeting opportunities
  • allowing time for informal conversations.

In response to Pomerantz questioning the best way to handle misalignment between internal and external stakeholders, Jacobson replied that it is good to be challenged. She suggests going back and revaluating the data, asking whether it accurately supports the statements and whether there is a better way to rephrase the statements to reflect supporting data.

Communication formats: increasing value and accessibility

Finally, Christopher Spohr (Ashfield Healthcare Communications) summarised some of the different platform formats and applications, noting that there is a lot of choice which may be informed by price, accessibility, development times and hardware. He noted that time-tested platforms, such as Word, PowerPoint, and PDF were widely utilised and with wide-ranging capabilities such as enabling the inclusion of infographics, zooming, embedded audio and video, and hyperlinks to aid the flow of the platform. A pro of such platforms is that pre-existing documents can be easily assimilated. On the other hand, web-based platforms are useful as they enable materials to be brought together in one central area. Moreover, administrators of a web-based site can understand the user’s interaction and performance within the site, providing analytics to enable evolution of the platform. Web-based platforms can also be combined with educational tools and can assess content retention. While they can take longer to create, Spohr noted that if planned properly such platforms can last and evolve for many years. He recommended a phase by phase development process, initially focussing on core components that can be added to over time.

Individualizing communications: From concept to impact

In the era of precision medicine, the critical need to individualise communications based not only on highly personalised clinical scenarios but tailored to each individual’s content and channel preferences was the focal point of this session.

Scientific storytelling: evolving the way we communicate

Denise Bonen (Complete HealthVizion), began by stating that in an age of abundant information available through multiple sources, much of which may be false or fake, it is our responsibility to share the truth and in a manageable and accessible way. She declared that:

“the power of storytelling cannot be underestimated”

A good story has a:

  • beginning – engage (clinical issue; emotional)
  • middle – deliver (data; rational)
  • end – close with commitment (patient outcome; emotional/rational).

Storytelling also allows us to connect with our audiences on a human level; Bonen suggested recognising the human experience when constructing a storytelling framework and expressing the problem in human terms rather than facts and figures alone.

The rise of precision medicine: changing the way we think

Stethoscope with bull's eye

Heather Abourjaily (Vertex Pharmaceuticals) proceeded to outline how precision medicine is changing the way we think. Traditional communications are rooted in a model where medicine is speciality-driven, and diagnoses are based on a patient’s symptoms. However, precision medicine (“an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person”) is changing how products and diagnostics are being developed and how physicians think about treating their patients. She reflected on how the future will see integrated clinical services taking a “whole body” approach with a new taxonomy of medicine based on underlying cause and personal response. Abourjaily also noted the challenges for healthcare professionals associated with keeping up to date in such a rapidly evolving field and asked how we can lead the way in this new environment, driving precision communications alongside precision medicine. She proposed the following call to action:

  • Bridge the knowledge gap between centres of excellence and community healthcare professionals.
  • Use clear, plain language in our communications (patient engagement).
  • Support sharing of best practices and experiences.
  • Mitigate potential concerns around precision medicine approaches.
  • Ensure ethical, equality, and economic implications of precision medicine are fully recognised and addressed in scientific exchange activities.

Individualising communications: revolutionising the way we connect

Finally, David Hogben (Complete HealthVizion) discussed how we can effectively communicate personalised clinical scenarios tailored to an individual’s content and channel preferences.

Searching for the right person concept, Stand out from the crowd and different concept , Magnifying glass focusing on the light man standing with arms wide open on green wall background. 3D rendering

Firstly, understanding our audience’s learning preferences is vital. Hogben reflected on how different personas (generation Z, millennials, generation x, boomers) utilise different ways of accessing information and explained that data needs to be adapted for different channels to communicate it as effectively as possible. In addition, Hogben highlighted the value of patients in scientific communication, emphasising the need to rapidly provide accurate and relevant information for all levels of understanding. Hogben noted the importance of visualising data in different ways and discussed how posters are a current example of how the same information can be provided across multiple channels. Web-based posters allow communication with an extended audience, addition of audio and video content for increased engagement, and permit the gathering of metrics to help make decisions on how to present information more effectively going forward. Hogben went on to discuss the application of artificial intelligence. Much like technologies employed by consumer marketing, predictive personalisation can utilise machine learning to individualise communications, adapting content to the needs of healthcare professionals and patients. The more we understand the learner the more we can personalise their journey.

How do we communicate in a world of ones?

The panel discussed several partnerships that may be needed to ensure communications continue to be relevant and impactful. These involve patient advocacy groups, publishers, technology companies, compliance, legal and regulatory bodies; it was suggested that ISMPP may be one organisation to facilitate these interactions in the future.

ISMPP business meeting

Catherine Skobe began this session by thanking the Board for their work over the last year and highlighting the achievements of Robert Matheis (ISMPP President and CEO) in particular. Skobe noted that despite the challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, ISMPP has continued to deliver in several areas, expanding its membership and achieving a record number of attendees at the 2020 ISMPP European Meeting. ISMPP also produced guidance on how to manage authorship issues and continue publication planning during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as establishing this first digital ISMPP meeting.

Following an overview of ISMPP’s financial reports by Treasurer Courtney Leo, Matheis discussed the society’s unprecedented growth and change over recent times, noting:

  • technology upgrades such as ISMPP Connect, a portal that allows ISMPP members to interact with each other outside of meetings
  • ISMPP InformED podcasts, a new offering allowing industry experts to share their experience and insights
  • ISMPP’s educational partnership with the University of Florida and the availability of pharmacy credits for continuing education via the ISMPP meeting.

The creation of the ISMPP Authorship Algorithm, a tool that will be available to aid members with decision making, is also underway, as are the ISMPP-sponsored GPP4 guidelines, which are expected to be finalised by the end of the year.

Matheis noted that ISMPP membership, currently standing at 1,812, continues to increase, representing professionals from a range of different sectors. Despite recent challenges, the Certified Medical Publication Professional (CMPP) programme also continues to grow, with 1,301 current certified professionals. In addition, a recent move from traditional paper certificates to digital certificates and badges allows a more visual recognition of these achievements. Skobe and Todd Parker concluded the session by thanking departing board members and welcoming new ones for the 2020–21 term. They also looked to the future, acknowledging the recent shift from traditional face-to-face conferences to virtual events and from a linear, sequential process of data dissemination to simultaneous, concurrent release of data.

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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