The 18th Annual Meeting of the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) took place in Washington, DC on 9-11 May and was themed ‘Future-Ready Medical Communications’. This year, 595 attendees participated in the meeting, which was held in-person for the first time since 2019.
The meeting covered a range of topics through thought-provoking and engaging keynote addresses, oral presentations, interactive sessions and roundtables. 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.
Summaries of Day 1
Keynote: Diversity drives innovation: leading for the future, now
- Diversity, inclusion, and psychological safety are key components to drive innovation and team performance in the workplace.
This year’s first keynote from Dr. Patricia Hurter (CEO, Lyndra Therapeutics) explored the importance of workplace diversity in driving innovation with 3 key points: diversity, inclusion, and psychological safety.
Diversity as an innovation driver
Starting on an uplifting note, Hurter described the optimism she feels having seen a positive direction of change in workplace diversity over the past few decades. But what do we mean by diversity and why should we care about it?
Diversity can be described as a two-dimensional concept comprising inherent factors, such as gender and ethnicity, and acquired ones. Acquired features of diversity are equally important and refer to the perspectives and ideas we bring from our life experiences.
Diversity can be described as a two-dimensional concept comprising inherent factors, such as gender and ethnicity, and acquired ones. Acquired features of diversity are equally important and refer to the perspectives and ideas we bring from our life experiences. Originally from South Africa, Hurter ascribes her ‘go for it’ attitude and high-risk tolerance to her early experience racing yachts. In the workplace, her ambitious, sometimes audacious, approach is complemented by other members of the team who take a more cautious stance. Everybody brings a valued aspect of diversity to the table.
Inclusion as a facilitator
In order for diversity to work, we need inclusion; indeed, diversity without inclusion doesn’t do any good. Elegantly summarised in the following quote, ‘Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance’, workplace inclusion ensures that our contributions are listened to and valued.
‘Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance’; workplace inclusion ensures that our contributions are listened to and valued.
At this point, the audience was asked to measure the inclusivity of their boss and encouragingly, 78% of the audience rated their boss as being inclusive. Amongst those, two-thirds strongly agreed that their ideas were heard, they could express their opinions and they were welcomed and included. Unsurprisingly, a much lower rating in these categories was observed amongst audience members who rated their boss as non-inclusive. Hurter concluded that no matter who you are, working for an inclusive boss is good for everyone to realise the advantages of a diverse team.
Psychological safety as a correlate of team performance
Psychological safety, the third and final key point, ensures that members of a diverse team can confidently share their opinions and experiences.
It is crucial to foster a safe workplace environment to reap the advantages of diversity on a team’s performance.
It is crucial to foster a safe workplace environment to reap the advantages of diversity on a team’s performance; indeed, data shows that psychological safety is correlated with higher performance as diversity increases.
In her own workplace, Hurter credited diversity as a key driver of innovation and called on the audience to hire diverse teams, action inclusivity and promote psychological safety in the workplace.
The following key points were raised in a Q&A session that followed the presentation.
- Celebrating other cultural holidays and festivals to inform and educate is a good way to share culture in the workplace.
- It’s important to bring your authentic self to work. Whilst it is difficult to do so, it’s important not to hide who you are.
- Having diverse people within an organisation helps to appreciate different aspects of diversity; as an example, organisational diversity can assist with overcoming challenges associated with recruiting a representative and diverse patient population in clinical trials.
- Asking the following three questions can help understand whether your direct report is content in his or her work life:
- Challenge: Is your work challenging and important to you?
- Freedom: Do you have the freedom you need to approach the work?
- Support: Do you have the support you need to approach the work?
Bringing it home: the next generation of clinical trials
- Adopting decentralised approaches to clinical trials offers many potential benefits, and may become an ethical imperative to reduce inequities in patient access to involvement in research.
In the second talk of the day, we heard from Craig Lipset (Decentralized Trials & Research Alliance [DTRA]) about the evolving landscape for decentralised clinical trials (DCTs).
Lipset defined DCTs as those using technology and/or processes that enable visits to take place outside traditional research sites. DCTs are centred around location flexibility, with trial visits taking place in the home (eg with nurses visiting to obtain samples), at local sites (such as local health provider sites, pharmacies, or community centres), or at mobile/pop-up clinics. A range of terminology is currently used: virtual, remote, and site-less can all refer to DCTs. Lipset noted that decentralisation could help to:
- improve trial recruitment
- boost retention of trial participants
- provide greater control, convenience, and comfort for trial participants
- increase diversity of trial participants
- improve resilience and continuity of clinical trials (as highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic).
While there has been an increased focus on DCTs over the last couple of years, there is a 17-year history of decentralised approaches being used in medical research prior to COVID-19. Just before the pandemic, there was an oversupply of decentralised capacity, and the pandemic brought increased openness to and adoption of these techniques. Lipset shared some key statistics reflecting stakeholder perspectives about DCTs:
- DCT adoption has increased from 28% pre-COVID to 80–87% of trials currently using decentralised approaches or planning to implement these in the next 12 months.
- 73% of clinical trial sites plan to continue using telemedicine post-pandemic.
- 79% of patients would find home visits in trials appealing, and 58% were more likely to participate in studies using telehealth approaches.
Lipset explained that in most cases, the approach taken to DCTs is ‘hybrid’, with some remote aspects incorporated into trial designs: most sponsors and contract research organisations (CROs) incorporated some form of virtual trial element during the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted that ‘hybrid’ may refer to sites (with some patients seen at a local site and others at a virtual site) or visits (with some conducted at the trial site and others conducted at home). Lipset highlighted a study which found that 57% of patients prefer participating in trials mostly from home, with only a few site visits (while 19% preferred fully decentralised designs and 12%/11% preferred trials with all/most visits at a trial site).
Lipset moved on to discuss the practicalities, emphasising that different elements of the DCT toolkit (eg, eConsent, video visits, remote monitoring, home drug supply, and digital endpoints) should be implemented based on the needs of each study. These needs will vary depending on diverse criteria, including patient insights, drug delivery, and the drug safety profile. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) and training may need to be aligned with the decentralised research methods chosen, and new partners identified where needed.
Different elements of the DCT toolkit…should be implemented based on the needs of each study.
Scaled adoption of DCTs may face barriers including:
- regulatory ambiguity (although this should improve as regulatory decisions are made based on trials conducted over the last couple of years)
- global variability
- technology interoperability and data flow
- investigator and patient readiness
- endpoint limitations
- organisational culture (including leadership buy-in and budget availability).
Lipset finished his talk by describing the mission and vision of the DTRA, which aims to facilitate the adoption of patient-focused, decentralised research and clinical trials, to make research participation accessible to all. He noted the 4 DTRA initiatives related to clinical trials focusing on: establishing common nomenclature for decentralised research; promoting best practices; building knowledge and information sharing capacity; and removing barriers to implementing decentralised approaches. Lipset noted that the DTRA is one organisation contributing to progress in these areas, and that transparency and cross-collaboration are key.
Looking to the future, Lipset anticipates that there will be continuing non-linear adoption of DCTs, with an ethical imperative driving a further spike: with growing availability of tools and know-how, ethics committees may start to ask how we can justify denying patients access to studies by not including decentralised elements in clinical trial designs. We are still at the beginning of the DCT journey, and there will be exciting developments ahead, including next-generation participant support, incorporating locations beyond ‘home’, and patients bringing their own real-world data into trials.
With growing availability of tools and know-how, ethics committees may start to ask how we can justify denying patients access to studies by not including elements of decentralisation in clinical trial designs?
The Q&A following the talk raised some important points, including:
- De-jargonising and normalising the language surrounding DCTs will be important to help build awareness, both in the research community and for patients.
- Selecting endpoints that can be measured easily and reliably is key to control for quality in DCTs. Biopharmaceutical industry investment into digital medicine will be required to modernise the collection of endpoints and ensure DCTs can be conducted without compromising data integrity.
- Decentralised approaches can democratise access to trials, such as for rare diseases with few centres of excellence, where patients may have previously faced inequities in access to the expertise based on their location.
- Some decentralised approaches are not resource-intensive and can be adopted globally, and may also help to overcome language barriers through access to a larger pool of study coordinators.
Audience segmentation: the use of archetypes in creating personalised omnichannel scientific engagement
- Personalisation through identification of archetypes and adaptation of content will help to optimise scientific engagement between Biopharma and HCPs.
Gary Lyons (Fishawack Health) took us on a journey through the evolution of healthcare and medical affairs and described how archetypes can be used to create personalised omnichannel engagement.
Lyons explained that currently, Pharma often provides the content they have rather than what healthcare professionals (HCPs) need. HCPs want personalised, bite-sized, retrievable content from a range of sources with timely notifications, ie an omnichannel approach where a variety of media is used to convey the information, exploiting the best channel as needed. Lyons made it clear that the success of omnichannel engagement relies on knowing your audience and the groups or segments within.
The success of omnichannel engagement relies on knowing your audience and the groups or segments within.
Archetypal segmentation defines groups, such as ‘early adopters’, ‘time savers’ or ‘cynics’, based on behavioural traits (eg attitudes, beliefs). Lyons explained that segmenting in this way can be more impactful, than say by functional segmentation (HCP, nurse, payer, etc) and lends itself more to personalisation. However, this type of segmentation is rarely used in scientific communication planning (just 1% of the audience polled). Lyons described the bell curve of adoption of innovation where a large proportion of HCPs look to others (the early adopters) to guide their decision making. The gap between these HCPs and the early adopters is significant and “crossing the chasm” is important. Lyons explained that the recognition of archetypes and personas lends itself to identifying the different learning preferences of the audience allowing information to be tailored accordingly, so that each segment can proceed along their own learning journey. The final polling question revealed that less than half (42%) of the delegates considered HCP learning within scientific planning, highlighting that more needs to be done for optimal engagement.
Attendees then selected from 3 parallel sessions, covering different aspects of medical publications and communications, or a guided poster tour to attend.
Breaking dawn: the future evolution of the medical publications ecosystem
- Pfizer’s new publication ecosystem, Aurora, aims to speed up the path to publication.
In the first of the parallel sessions, Catherine Skobe (Pfizer), Brian Aggen (Komodo Health), Gina Williams (Pfizer), Mike Taylor (Digital Science), and Rose Yates (Pfizer) outlined the development and launch of Pfizer’s new Aurora (‘breaking dawn’) publication management system. The team talked delegates through the rigorous development process and shared their tips on ensuring a successful rollout.
Aurora is a publication ecosystem that replaces legacy systems at Pfizer. Pfizer’s goal was to create a flexible, user-friendly system that could be scaled across the company.
Pfizer’s goal was to create a flexible, user-friendly system that could be scaled across the company.
The development process encompassed:
- identifying clear objectives
- prioritising needs
- including key stakeholders from an early stage: >100 people, across 12 focus groups, were engaged at the initial ideation stage
- comprehensive testing: 30 individuals tested >500 cases and produced >100 deliverables
- ongoing refinements and improvements.
Aurora automates some publication management tasks and integrates with up- and down-stream systems, such as clinical trial plans and publication metrics, aiming to speed up the data publication process and therefore ultimately benefit patients. Aurora launched in March 2022.
The team identified some key factors for success:
- gather multi-stakeholder perspectives from an early stage
- be prepared to refine as you go
- provide accessible training materials
- be bold!
How to train your (AI) dragon, and upskill yourself for the future
- AI tools exist that can assist in preparing a range of publication plan deliverables.
- Publication professionals should learn about the capabilities of AI to provide the necessary human input required to make AI tools perform at their best.
In this hands-on, workshop-style parallel session, Eline Hanekamp, Niina Nuottamo, Tom Rouwette, and Remon van den Broek (Excerpta Media) guided participants through an interactive exercise to demonstrate the relevance of artificial intelligence (AI) to medical communications publication plans. Delegates evaluated the capabilities of a range of hypothetical AI tools, considering the features that would be required for AI-assisted gap analysis, congress reporting, systematic literature searching, and scientific statement platform development. The workshop demonstrated that publications professionals should be aware of the capabilities and limitations of AI to optimise the performance of human-plus-machine tools for publication planning applications.
Publications professionals should be aware of the capabilities and limitations of AI to optimise the performance of human-plus-machine tools for publication planning applications.
Listen and learn: uncovering unmet patient needs through social listening, AI, and NLP
- Insights into patient perceptions and unmet needs can be gained from social media listening using AI approaches, enabling analysis of the unfiltered patient voice.
In the final parallel session, David Gibson (ApotheCom) and Chrissy Stanojev (MEDiSTRAVA) discussed how social listening using AI approaches can be used to better understand patient perspectives and be used to develop patient-focused materials.
Gibson opened the session by sharing how demonstrations by patient protesters at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in October 1988 marked the beginning of more active patient engagement. A professionally designed campaign demonstrated detailed knowledge of the FDA drug approval process, pushing for faster timelines, an end to double-blind placebo-controlled trials, more representative clinical trial populations, and FDA support for community patient groups. As a result, drug development has become increasingly patient-focused, and companies are proud of patient advocacy. However, some questions remain for biopharmaceutical companies:
- When should we engage patient groups?
- Who owns patient engagement in pharmaceutical companies – marketing, medical, or commercial?
- How can we engage patients compliantly?
The patient journey is not ‘old news’: we don’t know what we don’t know, and additional tools might allow us to gain a more comprehensive understanding. Combining social media data, systematic literature review results, and search data may help to reveal truths about patient perceptions.
Next up, in a video presentation, Dr. Claire Feeney (Pfizer UK and Imperial College of London) highlighted how sometimes it seems that patients and HCPs are speaking different languages. Taking an example from her own research into thyroid eye disease, Feeney shared how HCPs focused on disease activity and treatment options from a clinical perspective, and did not consider or address common themes raised by patients about their disease, such as appearance. Patients often use social media as a source of medical information and for peer support, and there is potential for social media to be used akin to a scaled-up patient focus group. This might allow unmet needs—currently mainly defined by industry experts, medical organisations, and patient advocacy groups—to be guided directly by lived experience and the unfiltered patient voice. Social media represents a rich data source as huge, open access databases in which themes and topics can be mined. Nephrology is one field leading the way in analysing social media data to understand patient information gaps, using social media to make educational resources available, and facilitating communication and interaction with patients.
There is potential for social media to be used akin to a scaled-up patient focus group. This might allow unmet needs…to be guided directly by lived experience and the unfiltered patient voice.
Feeney shared an example of a study looking to evaluate unmet needs in atopic dermatitis through comparing patient experiences expressed on social media with the scientific literature, using natural language processing (NLP). Sentiment analysis was conducted for social media mentions using NetBase, with mentions with negative sentiment further analysed to identify unmet need. Scientific literature identified through PubMed searches were analysed using IBM Watson Natural Language Understanding. In social media posts, ‘pain’ and ‘flare’ were the terms most frequently driving negative sentiment, with pain frequently associated with mentions of sleep. In contrast, the most prominent terms in the scientific literature were ‘Dermatology Life Quality Index’, ‘pruritus’, ‘itch’, ‘depression’, ‘sleep’ and ‘anxiety’, indicating some discordance between perspectives. Feeney felt that the patient voice is not well heard, despite this being expressed as central to drug development. Patients need to have more influence on research to drive improvements in the outcomes that matter most or have the greatest impact for them. Insights from social media sources extracted using AI-powered algorithms will help to better define patient unmet needs in the future.
Next, Stanojev dived deeper into the methodology used for these analyses, noting that NLP allows disparate datasets (such as literature searches, social media, and search engine search terms) to be homogenised to enable more fruitful analysis. Search trend data can show spikes in conversation sentiment over time, and keywords driving these spikes can be analysed. Usually, positive sentiment comes from promotional statements (eg for soaps for atopic dermatitis), and neutral sentiment from information sharing. As in the atopic dermatitis case study, negative sentiment is often analysed as people are more vocal and engaged when they are upset. As well as AI and NLP sentiment analysis, human analysis is also needed to check sentiment is being assigned appropriately – for example, sarcasm may not be picked up as negative by AI. Stanojev noted that for rare diseases, social media listening might not be able to identify much sentiment for analysis, referring to an example where social media listening was conducted for patients with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis/immunoglobulin A nephropathy (FSGS/IgAN). However, when looking at the larger chronic kidney disease population, symptoms and terminology identified using NLP sentiment analysis suggested that a portion of those patients could have undiagnosed FSGS/IgAN. This illustrates that social media data can be leveraged to uncover new patient groups, alongside key insights into patient unmet needs and perceptions of treatment and disease management.
Social media data can be leveraged to uncover new patient groups, alongside key insights into patient unmet needs and perceptions of treatment and disease management.
The following Q&A also raised some interesting points:
- Casting the net wide by combining social listening platforms (such as NETBase and Talkwalker) and then narrowing down to the best sources for a given question or project can be a useful approach.
- For rare diseases, multiple datasets can be integrated to increase sample size. The dataset providing the greatest insight may vary between diseases.
- For more taboo topics, search engine search terms may provide a larger dataset than social media: greater anonymity means people may be more forthcoming.
Guided poster tour: novel communication channels
In total, 50 posters were presented at the meeting, with abstracts published in a Current Medical Research and Opinion supplement. On this guided poster tour, attendees visited 3 posters on the theme of novel communication channels. The presenting authors are shown in bold:
- Congress virtual plenaries and their potential impact on oncology publication planning – Victoria Enwemadu, Caroline Ojaimi, Marcel Kuttab, Matthew Strawbridge, Syrah Khan, Helen Johns.
- Correlation between journal impact factor and Twitter engagement – Krystina M Neuman, Jennifer L Fetting, Tania R Iqbal, Tracy H Johnson, Judy Fallon, Rhonda Croxton.
- Efficient processes in developing novel communication channels in publications: a podcast article case study – Caroline Halford, Lydia Alborn, Colin Horsch, Lana Vegman, Meredith Whitaker.
Attendees then had the opportunity to participate in roundtables, which covered the following topics:
- Authorship challenges
- Digital engagement in publications
- Improving understanding: developing plain language podcasts
- Publication platform design
- Optimising video abstracts in peer-reviewed literature
- Reality check on future of automation in scientific communications: how can we maximise success
- Staying on trend: tailoring medical communications to meet HCP information access & learning preferences
- Trust in science and knowledge stewardship: an overview of medical preprint quality indicators
- Understanding the long-term impact of COVID-19: has biomedical research communications been changed for good?
- Audience segmentation
- A look to the future: reimaging the journal article
- Extending the reach of virtual scientific congress posters
- Ethics and compliance
- Tactical approaches to streamline journal submission process for publication success.
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.