The 2022 European Meeting of the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) was held virtually on 25–26 January. This year, nearly 350 delegates attended the virtual meeting, which was themed ‘Advancing Our Profession: Driving Leadership and Best Practices in Medical Communications’.
During the meeting, two keynote addresses and several thought-provoking presentations and engaging panel discussions were streamed live to attendees, who were given the opportunity to actively participate by asking questions and sharing their views. A summary of the first day of the meeting is provided below to benefit those who were unable to attend the meeting, and as a timely reminder of the key topics covered for those who did.
A summary of the second day of the meeting can be found here.
Summaries of Day 1
Welcome/year in review
- The 2021 Year in Review highlighted the rise of open access, preprints, plain language summaries, and focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.
Rob Pilbrow (Syneos Health Communications) opened the meeting by welcoming attendees, thanking ISMPP and its meeting sponsors and exhibitors, and noting the donation made to the Centre for Entrepreneurs on behalf of the meeting faculty. He introduced the meeting theme, highlighting that we have moved from reacting to COVID-19 to a position where we can look ahead and make proactive changes to shape our industry for the future. Pilbrow mentioned key topics to be tackled during the meeting, including best practice guidelines, diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the clinical trial life cycle, artificial intelligence (AI) and precision medicine. Pilbrow also shared that ISMPP will be featured in an upcoming episode of Advancements with Ted Danson. Attendees saw a preview of the segment, which will provide an enduring resource highlighting the role of medical publication professionals in making accurate and credible information available in a timely manner, supporting healthcare professionals and patients with their treatment decisions. In a post-meeting update, it was announced that the episode will be broadcast on 5 March on Bloomberg TV in the US, and subsequently on Amazon Prime and other stations.
Tim Koder (Oxford PharmaGenesis) then looked back at some key trends and topics in the medical publishing community in 2021.
- Dimensions reported that open access had overtaken subscription publishing for the first time. Koder commented that several companies now have open access mandates and overall, it is on the rise, but cautioned that this acceleration could worsen inequities if care is not taken.
- Preprints have seen substantial growth, although there has been little uptake by the pharmaceutical industry. Koder highlighted the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA)-European Medical Writers Association (EMWA)-ISMPP joint position statement and the addition of preprints to the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) recommendations as key developments.
- Demands for open data and patient-level data sharing during the publication process have become more prevalent.
- Plain language summaries (PLS) of various formats have proliferated. In 2021, a publication from the ISMPP PLS Perspectives Working Group gave insights into stakeholder perspectives and initiatives such as the Patient Focused Medicines Development (PFMD) ‘How-To’ Guide and Open Pharma recommendations provided guidance on PLS development.
- The importance of partnering with patients throughout the development of medical publications is increasingly recognised and public support from the industry is growing.
- The growing role of AI in scientific research and publications has been highlighted with the release of the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials–Artificial Intelligence (CONSORT-AI) and Standard Protocol Items: Recommendations for Interventional Trial–Artificial Intelligence (SPIRIT-AI) reporting guidelines.
- In 2021, record venture capital rushed into medical communications prompting massive mergers and acquisitions. Two of the largest being: AstraZeneca, which bought Alexion for $39 billion, creating Alexion, AstraZeneca Rare Diseases; venture capital firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice bought Huntsworth in May, then it bought Nucleus, one of the largest privately owned medical communications groups in the world. The firm then bought UDG, parent company of Ashfield, for £2.8 billion.
- Corporate social responsibility, and particularly DE&I, is of greater focus than ever before. In 2020, the ISMPP roadmap for the profession was released, and journals have made commitments to improving editorial board and peer reviewer diversity. Current and prospective employees are placing increasing importance on mental wellbeing in the workplace and employer values and beliefs.
- The shift to virtual congresses is here to stay, contributing to a more sustainable industry for the future. Continued improvement of virtual and hybrid conferences will be welcomed.
In closing, Koder noted that while there has been great appreciation for science in 2021, trust in the pharmaceutical industry has been very variable and may even have decreased. He noted that earning trust in what we do is fundamental to our place in the healthcare system. Koder suggested that we ask ourselves Martin Luther King’s question “What are you doing for others?” as we consider what we want to achieve in our industry in the future.
Building the foundation of our futures
- Medical publication guidelines and practices should continue to evolve. Key areas of development include wider patient involvement, increased diversity and recognising the role of contributorship.
The first panel discussion session, moderated by Chris Winchester (Oxford PharmaGenesis), reviewed key milestones in medical publications, and discussed future areas of change from various stakeholder perspectives.
Rising to the challenge
Pivotal developments in medical publication practice over the last 2 decades, such as Good Publication Practice (GPP), ISMPP, ICJME and EQUATOR guidelines, have greatly impacted how we report clinical trial data. Emily Bruce (AstraZeneca) reminded attendees that these developments often resulted from practices of misconduct and lack of public trust in the industry and reiterated the need to evolve practices and guidelines to ensure clinical data are reported objectively and transparently.
Medical communication professionals have “never had a more important role”, Winchester commented.
Continuing the journey
As the global environment changes, new opportunities and therefore choices lay ahead – but where can medical publication professionals help? Winchester highlighted 8 key areas for future developments to build and maintain trust as an industry:
- Accessibility – open access publications and making data available to those outside the scientific community
- Transparency – encouraging the uptake of data sharing platforms whilst balancing patient privacy
- Acknowledgements – considering authorship versus contributorship
- Disclosures – transfer of value and how this is defined moving forward
- Timeliness – balancing rapid data dissemination (eg through preprints as highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic) whilst keeping peer review at the core of publications
- Engagement – ensuring patients are recognised as a diverse group and involved throughout clinical trial and publication development
- Comprehensibility – PLS must continue to meet the needs of a diverse audience
- Equity – the importance of ensuring diversity and inclusion in all areas of the community.
The future of medical publications
Richard Stephens (Patient advocate; Journal of Research Involvement and Engagement) and his co-panellists agreed that they would like to see patients acting as equal partners in the publications development process, from study design right through to co-authorship and peer reviewers. Improving diversity was flagged as a key action point, with Cat Pinho-Gomes (King’s College London; The George Institute for Global Health, Imperial College London) highlighting this should apply to clinical trial populations as well.
“Diversity needs to be pervasive in the publishing system” – Cat Pinho-Gomes.
The debate on authorship versus contributorship sparked interest, with some arguing that listing contributors rather than authors would be a more balanced and fair system of acknowledging those who input into clinical research outside of the ICMJE criteria; but there will be challenges to implement such a systemic change. Mina Patel (OPEN Health Group) stressed one barrier to the contributorship model is the way academia perceives authorship and publications to achieve tenure, promotions and grants for future research. Also mentioned was the need to evolve authorship agreements from industry to clearly note that authors who do not substantially contribute to the interpretation of the data will be removed as authors and acknowledged as contributors. Conversely, Daniel Shanahan (Public Library of Science) argued that contributions to research are not limited to the publication of the article, which is an inflection point in the process. Also noted was the limitation of non-English speaking authors who are often not properly acknowledged.
Keynote – Compassionate leadership for compassionate cultures
- Compassionate leadership is at the heart of successful organisations.
Michael West (The Kings Fund, Lancaster University, University College Dublin, and Aston University) summarised the importance of compassionate leadership and the performance benefits that this can bring.
West’s research underpins evidence-based practice in the UK and has supported the NHS in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The theme of his presentation was centred on compassion being at the heart of communities and cultures.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a time of substantial stress for healthcare staff, and there has been a large increase in post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet West acknowledged that pressures within the healthcare sector existed before COVID-19 struck. As such, we should consider how healthcare systems can be transformed to ensure that they are fit for the future, not just in response to the pandemic. Our aim should be to help communities lead healthy, happy and fulfilling lives. From this perspective the medical publications community can help by sharing knowledge that aids in this goal. West also emphasised that the organisations within which we work should reflect the cultures we seek in the broader healthcare setting, with compassion at the centre.
The organisations within which we work should reflect the cultures we seek in the broader healthcare setting, with compassion at the centre.
From a neurological perspective, West explained that feelings of empathy towards someone in pain can activate pain centres in our own brains, whereas compassion will activate reward centres. He suggests that this indicates humans are hard-wired to have compassionate responses and furthermore, that compassion can increase a sense of belonging and blur the boundaries between ‘self’ and ‘other’.
Compassion can increase a sense of belonging and blur the boundaries between ‘self’ and ‘other’.
Within organisations, West suggests that leaders should listen to their staff, understand their challenges and take action to help. Whilst wellness programs at work can help reduce stress levels, the causes of stress need to be addressed to ensure people’s core needs are met. West describes these needs as autonomy, belonging and contribution. In this way, chronic work overload, a major problem in the healthcare sector, can be addressed by good leadership and continued training and development.
With improvements in staff satisfaction and engagement, brought about through compassionate leadership, private sector financial performance, customer care and creativity will increase, with lower rates of employee turnover and sickness.
With the increase in hybrid working, individuals can become more task than people focussed. West believes these new ways of working should be embraced, ensuring that people are given respect and shown gratitude. Teams should also be given time to reflect; organisations are reportedly 30–40% more productive, effective and innovative when this happens regularly.
West’s presentation concluded with a question-and-answer session:
What are the barriers to compassionate leadership?
Within the UK NHS, West has seen few barriers to compassionate leadership, which is now at the centre of NHS leadership strategy. In some areas of the country, junior clinicians also receive training in this area.
Is this approach applicable to all sectors and are any areas particularly challenging?
West confirmed that the approach is applicable to all human communities, including workplaces. He feels that there has been a loss of community, with people having smaller friendship groups and spending more time alone, leading to an imbalance in emotional security. Some organisations have become too focussed on targets and productivity, which can run counter to the core values of compassion that underpin human communities. This is related to higher levels of stress, turnover and health problems.
How do you influence upwards?
West believes we all have the ability to listen compassionately. Organisations should monitor levels of support and compassion and intervene when this is absent. He suggests this should be part of the recruitment process and regularly appraised. Importantly, West points out that the most powerful influence we have is on our own behaviour.
The most powerful influence we have is on our own behaviour.
Leading by example with guidelines and recommendations for best practices
- The ISMPP Authorship Algorithm will soon be available to aid publication professionals with defining and documenting authorship contributions.
- Upcoming ACCORD guidelines will provide a framework for reporting on consensus-based biomedical and clinical research.
- Progress continues on the GPP4 guidelines, due to be published in May 2022.
Reporting guidelines and recommendations are invaluable tools in the ongoing effort to meet and improve standards in the accuracy and transparency of scientific reporting. In this session, leaders from the medical communications community updated attendees on 3 upcoming initiatives designed to support medical publication professionals with transparent publication development.
The ISMPP Authorship Algorithm
Opening the session was Avishek Pal (Novartis), who unveiled the ISMPP Authorship Algorithm, due for full rollout in the coming weeks. The aim of the tool, created by the ISMPP Authorship Taskforce, is to provide an objective and transparent method for defining and documenting substantial authorship contributions (ie, contributions towards the first of the ICMJE authorship criteria).
Consistent application of the ICMJE authorship contribution criteria can be challenging. The ISMPP Authorship Algorithm aims to bring objectivity and transparency to the process.
Pal demonstrated a working version of the web-based tool, which was developed with feedback from more than 100 volunteers representing multiple organisations. The tool guides the user through a 3-step process of ranking the relative contributions of each potential author based on a pre-selected weighting scheme that can be customised on a project-by-project basis. This customisation allows more weighting to be assigned to different areas of contribution to account for different types and complexities of research.
The free-to-use tool will be hosted by ISMPP along with a suite of implementation aids to provide users with best practice guidance and examples. Pal encouraged publication professionals to make use of the tool and to provide any feedback to fine-tune future versions of the algorithm.
ACCORD reporting guideline for consensus publications
Will Gattrell (Ipsen) and Niall Harrison (Ogilvy Health) continued proceedings with their presentation on the ACcurate COnsensus Reporting Document (ACCORD) guideline, which will provide a guidance framework to biomedical and clinical researchers reporting consensus-based research. With expert opinion playing an increasingly important role – particularly in rapidly evolving fields where there is an absence of higher-quality evidence eg, from randomised controlled trials and systematic literature reviews – the ACCORD group identified the need for a tool to allow researchers to describe consensus-based research in a complete, transparent and consistent way.
The absence of any existing guidance on the reporting of consensus-based research may be deterring researchers from conducting studies of this type.
Harrison explained how the EQUATOR Network’s toolkit for preparing reporting guidelines has facilitated the development of the project, from identifying the need, writing and registering the initial protocol, through to the consultation stage currently in progress. For anyone planning a similar undertaking, Harrison recommended casting the net as widely as possible during the consultation stage to ensure contributions are gathered from all interested stakeholders including clinicians, patients, publication professionals, publishers, and industry partners – all of whom are represented on the ACCORD steering committee. With publication professionals involved from the outset, the initial draft of the guidelines will undergo panel review this coming spring. Get in touch with the ACCORD team (ACCORD@ogilvy.com) if you want to participate in this process and help shape this important initiative.
Dan Bridges (Nucleus Global) closed the session with an update on the eagerly anticipated 4th iteration of the GPP guidelines. Bridges outlined the progress that has been made with the guidelines since their original 2003 incarnation, describing how each successive version has employed a more rigorous methodology and a broader consultation process to make the guidelines relevant for a wider range of stakeholders. This trend is set to continue with the GPP4 guidelines, which are expected to be more practical in their application and with translations planned into languages beyond English, particularly Japanese and Chinese.
Areas of focus in the updated document will include the role of patients in medical publications, additional publication types such as health economics and outcomes research and real world evidence, along with practical guidance on journal selection. The GPP4 guidelines will also cover social media for the first time, with Bridges noting that while this was a provocative topic, it certainly couldn’t be ignored given the huge role of social media in scientific communication.
The GPP4 guidelines will be the first to cover the role of social media in medical publications.
Having undergone thorough internal review and external expert review, the draft guidance is now undergoing an external peer-review process ahead of submission and journal peer review; Bridges extolled the virtue of a comprehensive review process to ensure the new guidelines have the highest level of credibility possible. Subject to peer review, Bridges envisions GPP4 being published in May of this year and hopes to present the new framework to attendees at the ISMPP Annual Meeting due to take place in Washington DC from 9–11 May.
Commitment to plain language summaries
Gattrell concluded the session with the announcement that from July 2022, Ipsen will commit to publishing, as a minimum, 250-word PLS for all company-sponsored journal publications that include data from human studies.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health and well-being of publication professionals (member proposal)
- COVID-19 affected all aspects of publication professionals’ lives, from adapting to new work environments to evolving their strategies to deal with the rapid dissemination of accurate scientific data.
This session, derived from a member proposal and moderated by Tim Day (Innovative Strategic Communications), explored the challenges medical publication professionals have faced since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, taking perspectives from public health, publishers, and medical communications professionals.
The public health perspective
Susan Hopkins (UK Health Security Agency) started the session by sharing her perspective as a public health communicator. She noted that it is now impossible to keep up with COVID-19 literature, and new important information is commonly released by pre-print/press release without peer review, diminishing quality and trust in the scientific data. Examples of public health misinformation during the pandemic included topics such as treatments, vaccination adverse effects, face masks, and the utility of different tests, many of which were exacerbated by a lack of robust evidence.
It is critical to always challenge misinformation; science communicators need to understand the drivers of false beliefs.
Hopkins emphasised that it is critical to always challenge misinformation, and explained that science communicators need to understand the drivers of false beliefs:
- Cognitive drivers:
- relying on intuitive thinking rather than analytical thinking and/or deliberation
- cognitive failures eg neglecting or forgetting sources or counter-evidence
- illusory truth, where beliefs are built on familiarity and fluency eg from a cohesive narrative in the media
- Socio-affective drivers:
- source cues, eg trusted elites and medical professionals, or even celebrities
- emotive information and emotional state, eg worry about harm from vaccines
- worldview from personal or community perspectives, eg the difference in rates of face coverings between political supporters in the US.
Hopkins concluded that the more effective we can be in our public communication by identifying these drivers and using strategic interventions to counter these false beliefs, the more likely we will be able to combat misinformation and communicate the correct information in the long run.
The publisher’s perspective
John McConnell (The Lancet Infectious Diseases) continued the session by providing his perspective as a publisher in the field of infectious diseases. Since the beginning of 2020, COVID-19 publishing has pushed all other diseases to the side-lines, putting huge pressures on journals. The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal would typically expect to receive ~40 manuscripts/week for review, but in 2020 saw a 3.75x increase in submissions vs other years, with a peak of 385 submissions/week in April 2020. This was also reflected in readership, with ~2 million article views or downloads/year pre-pandemic jumping to almost 18 million in 2020.
McConnell noted that although increased public and professional attention is welcome, especially the public discourse and increased interest in science, there were challenges in being ‘in the eye of the political storm’, with social media attacks ranging from accusations of murder to genocide. Although discomforting, McConnell concludes that none of these accusations resonate with their perspective as publishers, who aim to advance the medical and public health response to COVID-19.
The MedComms agency and freelancer perspective
Day concluded the session by looking at the wide-reaching effect of COVID-19 from the perspective of employers, employees and freelancers working in medical communications.
- Office environment and staff retention
- Many publication professionals experienced a sudden change in work environment from office to remote work, bringing both technical and personal challenges. Although this has generally stabilised by 2022, challenges continue, with new COVID-19 variants and phenomena such as ‘the Great Resignation’ in the US as people start to emerge from this highly stressful period.
- Mental health
- Mental health moved into the forefront of conversations between employers and employees, with such discussions at work becoming normalised. Day noted the importance of using inclusive mental health language in the workplace and understanding that everyone has a distinct set of circumstances.
- Future of the workplace
- Remote working has proved possible for publication professionals, which has led employers to make important decisions on how to optimise staff productivity using remote or hybrid set-ups that allow employees to balance work, family and mental health. Although the world is gradually returning to normal, virtual engagement is more important than ever in all aspects of business, including creating an inclusive environment despite remote working. Finally, employers need to recognise the diverse needs in their employees’ lives and understand that they may no longer be willing to make the same sacrifices as before the pandemic.
In the final Day 1 session, Rob Matheis (ISMPP President & CEO) delivered the first ISMPP leadership update for the year. Matheis shared that following increased societal interest in the role of medical publications, ISMPP is proud to be featured in an upcoming episode of Advancements with Ted Danson, as mentioned by Pilbrow in his opening remarks. Matheis noted that the foundation of our profession in disseminating peer reviewed publications has never been stronger, but our remit has expanded. Now, medical publication professionals must increasingly consider how publications will be utilised in decision-making, requiring new skillsets and approaches. In 2022, ISMPP will broaden its educational offering, delivering guidance such as GPP4, tools such as the Authorship Algorithm, and position statements to continue meeting its members’ needs.
Ann Gordon (CMC Affinity; Director of ISMPP Certification Board) then presented a brief update on the Certified Medical Publication Professional™ (CMPP™) credential. As featured in the Advancements segment, the credential strengthens credibility and confidence in our profession and has continued to thrive despite the COVID-19 pandemic. As of December 2021, there were 1,406 certified individuals worldwide, and reach of the programme is expanding, with applications for the latest exams received from new countries. Gordon noted the continued development of the programme, with 30 self-study activities now eligible for recertification via credit, expansion of the mentor programme, and the upcoming availability of a remote, online option for the exam.
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.
Authorship, Digital and social media, Medical writing, Open access / open source, Patient centricity / lay summary, Publication planning, Reporting guidelines, Research integrity, Transparency, Upcoming event / meeting report