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 morning sessions from the second 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 the morning sessions on Day 2
Keynote: Flash of genius – learning the art and science of creativity
- We all have the capability to be a creative genius – we just need to unlock that potential.
Amy Foreman-Wykert (Amgen) opened Day 2 of the meeting and introduced the keynote lecture, given by Allen Gannett (Founder and CEO of TrackMaven and author of The Creative Curve). Gannett’s thought-provoking presentation summarised his arguments that the art of creativity does not only belong to natural born creative geniuses but is within us all.
The art of creativity does not only belong to natural born creative geniuses but is within us all.
Gannett explained that the traditional creative genius model has four elements:
- individual – the ‘solo genius’ who is born with these talents
- easy – once overtaken by inspiration, success comes easily
- overwhelming – moments of brilliance overtake the creator
- manic – creators are somewhat mad or neurotic.
But is this true? What if creativity is obtainable for all of us? Gannett used the analogy of Mozart to demonstrate that the perception of Mozart as a child genius could in fact be wrong, and that it was all down to hard work and practice. A study in Austria looked at the relationship between intelligence and creativity. A positive correlation did exist, but this stopped at an IQ of 104. Above this, everyone was found to have the same creative potential: this is the threshold theory.
So, how can you unlock this widespread potential? Gannett used crossword puzzle solving to further explain the science of creativity and what is going on in the brain. Using logical processing or letter-by-letter to solve the puzzle is a ‘left brain’ process, while sudden insight to an answer is a subconscious process and comes from the right side of the brain. If you are too overloaded, you won’t ‘hear’ the sudden insights – you need moments of quiet when your left hemisphere is less active. Gannett described the insatiable appetite that creative geniuses have for consuming content within their niche throughout their lives. He highlighted the ‘20% principle’, where creative geniuses spend 20% of their waking hours devouring the raw ingredients for their creative output. Paul McCartney’s consumption of musical content caused a sudden insight moment one morning to record a melody – the hit song, Yesterday.
Gannett concluded that we all have the potential to be a creative genius: if we unlock it and listen to the right hemisphere of our brain, we too could make our mark.
We all have the potential to be a creative genius: if we unlock it and listen to the right hemisphere of our brain, we too could make our mark.
One small step for a congress, one giant leap for scientific presentations
- A good scientific talk should be a story to which the audience can relate and want to pay attention. Scientific slides are an aid to that story, focusing the audience on what the speaker is saying.
The second talk of the day was delivered by Jude D’Souza (Spirit) and Nathalie Van Havre (European Hematology Association) and focused on the importance of storytelling in medical presentations.
Public speaking for scientific presentations has been done in the same way for many years, with masses of information and data overloading large slide decks. Often these slides are presented by speakers who are not experts in communication and, ultimately, the key messages are lost. Indeed, in D’Souza’s experience, top names in a given field are often chosen as speakers and their ability to present is a secondary factor.
D’Souza and Van Havre want to improve medical presentations to better capture the audience’s attention and convey the message. In so doing, they developed the European Hematology Association (EHA) spotlight talk: a 20-minute presentation consisting of just 5 slides. The aim is that the slides act as a storytelling tool, much like for a ‘TED Talk’, and the focus shifts from what the speaker is showing to what the speaker is saying.
The EHA Congress is a long-standing and successful meeting and, initially, EHA took some convincing before agreeing to adopt the new approach, admitted Van Havre. D’Souza had also expected some hostility and push back from the spotlight speakers, but after some initial reluctance, the speakers, with a couple of exceptions, were very receptive and engaged with the training that was on offer to support the transition. The training, both one-on-one and workshop-based, served as a good support tool for those spotlight speakers who were nervous about the prospect of presenting so few slides. D’Souza outlined 4 areas of focus in the training:
- Trust in gut instinct: the speakers had good instincts but often pulled their punches.
- Find the story: weave data/science into the framework of a compelling story.
- Show the speaker’s perspective: think about how the data/science is relevant to the audience to make it relatable.
- Use strong openings: a strong opening can create intrigue and make people want to pay attention. This is especially important in a virtual environment.
D’Souza and Van Havre concluded the talk with some key learnings, starting with explaining that it is how slides are used that is important, and not the number of slides. Limitations to the number of slides was initially important to get speakers to commit to the approach, but more slides can, and should, be added to support the message if necessary. However, gaining buy-in from congresses in terms of limiting the number of permitted slides may well be crucial to move the needle – if there are no restrictions, authors and industry members are likely to stick with the familiar ‘loads of slides, all the data’ approach. If more congresses impose restrictions, more people will be exposed to this type of talk, see the benefits, and become more receptive to it. Indeed, both the audience and speakers were encouragingly positive about the 5-slide EHA spotlight talks: the slides were engaging, didn’t lose scientific depth, and very clearly conveyed their message.
Both the audience and speakers were encouragingly positive about the 5-slide EHA spotlight talks: the slides were engaging, didn’t lose scientific depth, and very clearly conveyed their message.
The following key points were raised in a question-and-answer session that followed the presentation:
- There is nothing in the literature that supports the paradigm of audio versus visual learners. The way we learn depends on what we are learning and the opportunities we are presented with to learn.
- In scientific presentations, it is often necessary to show full data sets for completeness. Zooming in on important data and greying out the rest highlights the key parts, without hiding any data.
ISMPP business meeting and financial report
- The medical publications profession has come of age, and is now more responsible than ever for ensuring medical information is used effectively.
Mary Gaskarth (CMC Affinity) opened this session by announcing the winners of this year’s poster prizes:
- Best original research: Gender differences in how authors “hype” the importance of their research – Ira Mills, Suze Kundu, Bob JA Schijvenaars.
- Best practice: Reviewing scientific publications to protect the privacy of clinical study participants [encore] – Colin McKinnon, Friedrich Maritsch, Ingeborg Cil, Nicole Baumgartner, Jesse Potash, Borislav Pavlova, Valérie Philippon.
- Best visual communication: Future-forward approach to optimizing consumption of publication content – Jessica B Bessler, William Fazzone, Adam Ruth, William Miranda, Jim Lothrop, Nancy Sladicka.
- Publication star: Evaluating video abstract visibility and content in peer-reviewed literature – Aarthi R Gobinath, Deirdre A Rodeberg, Ann K Overton, Rebecca E Slager, Jeffrey D Stumpf.
With the poster prize winners announced, Valérie Philippon (Takeda), the outgoing Chair of the ISMPP Board of Trustees, presented her report to attendees. Philippon highlighted the achievements of the professional body during the last year, noting the successful ISMPP West meeting as well as the well-received ISMPP Virtual Roundtables series. She also drew attention to the Advancements with Ted Danson series on Bloomberg TV, which showcased ISMPP and marked the coming of age of the medical communications field. Elsewhere, the ISMPP Plain Language Summary (PLS) Working Group has published a study in Current Medical Research and Opinion that emphasised the key challenges and opportunities to inform best practice for PLS. The ISMPP Authorship Task Force also published its recommendations for objective and consistent interpretation of International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) authorship criterion 1 in Current Medical Research & Opinion this year.
Courtney Leo (Pfizer) then gave her financial report to delegates, outlining the state of ISMPP’s finances, which remain solid with a financial audit planned for later this year.
Dana Fox (Caudex) moved on to give an update on the ISMPP Certified Medical Publication Professional™ (CMPP™) credentialing programme for 2022, reiterating the many reasons to (re)certify as a CMPP™, all of which will serve to strengthen the credibility of the medical publications profession. Despite the pandemic, the CMPP™ programme has expanded, and this year saw the first applicants from countries including Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia. Fox outlined plans to future proof the programme, including a remote online examination due to be rolled out soon, a programme of self-study activities, and the CMPP™ mentor programme. She also recapped the flexible response taken during the COVID-19 pandemic to support the CMPP™ community, including extensions to the deadlines for recertification.
Robert Matheis (President and CEO, ISMPP) provided a perspective on the current state of the profession and its future trajectory, noting again the coming of age of the medical communications profession as it gains maturity, autonomy, responsibility, and accountability. Matheis described how the profession has moved on from simply publishing medical communications to the present situation, where medical publications professionals are closer to patient care and take greater responsibility for ensuring that people make the best use of published information. Matheis closed his address with a call to action, encouraging all ISMPP members to stay engaged, and to seek out opportunities to get involved in ISMPP initiatives.
Matheis described how the profession has moved on from simply publishing medical communications to the present situation, where medical publications professionals are closer to patient care and take greater responsibility for ensuring that people make the best use of published information.
Incoming Chair of the ISMPP Board of Trustees, Dan Bridges (Nucleus Global), closed the session with a look at the coming year, mentioning the forthcoming Good Publication Practice 4 (GPP4) guidelines and reiterating Matheis’ call to action for all ISMPP members to get involved in the society’s activities.
To round off the morning, attendees could select from 3 parallel sessions, which looked at working with patient authors, dashboarding and data visualisation, and remote working.
Democratising medical research and publishing: how to work with patients as authors on company-sponsored studies
- Patients, caregivers, and patient advocates can provide a unique insight and perspective on a disease and therapeutic interventions, as patient authors and as advisors throughout the drug development process.
The first parallel session looked at working with patient authors. Despite increasing recognition of the value of patient engagement in medical publishing, a quick ‘show of hands’ demonstrated that most attendees had limited or no experience of working with patients. This session explored the patient, pharmaceutical industry, and agency perspectives on patient participation in medical research and publishing, highlighting the main barriers and how to overcome them.
Representing the patient voice was Dakota Fisher-Vance (Young Adult Cancer Connection, BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, Global Patient Advocacy), a published young cancer survivor, and Dawn Richards, a patient with rheumatoid arthritis who has published on patient involvement in medical research. Yuan Wang (Bayer) provided the pharma perspective, drawing on her experience of working with patients for the development of a Plain Language Summary of Publication (PLSP) for a Phase 3 cancer study. Simon Stones (patient advocate and Envision Pharma Group) also gave his perspective on the many ways to involve patients.
The ideal patient author can be any informed patient who is able to provide insight into the area of focus for a publication and who expresses interest to be involved. There are diverse types of patient author – trial participants, caregivers, patient advocates, and younger patients who may have been training to join the medical/pharmaceutical industry at the point of diagnosis. For example, the patient support network Young Adult Cancer Connection has successfully partnered with a number of life sciences research organisations to help them develop a truly patient-centred approach.
Patients provide valued input in several ways:
- Patients have insight into their disease that even leading clinicians in the field may be unaware of, and this can be complementary to other professionals’ expertise.
- Patient perspective adds an extra dimension to patient journey mapping, providing the lived experience.
- Patient contribution adds credibility to publications, validating the content, particularly within patient communities.
- Patient authors can provide a bridge in scientific literacy and knowledge between the medical industry and patient communities.
Patient contribution adds credibility to publications, validating the content, particularly within patient communities.
Wang highlighted how patients can contribute at every stage of the drug development life cycle:
- deepening disease understanding
- advising on study design (patient-centric endpoints, schedule of assessments)
- evaluating the suitability of enrolment criteria
- participating in patient advisory boards
- reviewing channels for data dissemination, including social media analysis
- authoring PLS.
Wang explained how patient involvement in clinical trial design may improve the patient experience, leading to better quality of life, improved communication with the treating physician, and increased compliance.
Patient authorship resources are available, including evidence-based recommendations and Workgroup of European Cancer Patient Advocacy Networks (WECAN) training courses. Wang added her personal tips for including patients in medical publishing:
- Cultivate a close partnership with the patient community to identify topics of interest.
- Identify authors – including a clinical lead author and patients, patient advocates, or caregivers as co-authors.
- Agree on the target journal – preferably open access.
- Agree on author responsibility and time commitment.
- Provide editorial support for the patient perspective section.
- Plan budget for translation into multiple languages.
There are some key barriers to including patients as co-authors in medical research publications, which need to be addressed and accommodated for a successful partnership to flourish:
- considering scientific literacy and understanding of medical publication processes (which is set to be tackled in upcoming GPP4 guidance)
- time availability, with competing life and health demands, given patient authors are also having to manage their condition and its impact on daily living
- achieving authorship criteria – and convincing the publishing and scientific community that these can be met by patients
- recognition of the value of patient contributions to publications.
There are some key barriers to including patients as co-authors in medical research publications…[including] achieving authorship criteria – and convincing the publishing and scientific community that these can be met by patients.
Nevertheless, both Fisher-Vance and Richards emphasised that it is worth persisting and looking for the potential in patients. Specifically, they recommended:
- including patients in publications planning
- guiding patients through the publication process
- publishing in open access journals so that publications can be accessible to the patient communities that they concern
- being transparent and communicative in ways you may not normally be
- being honest, if working with patient authors is new for you as well!
Opportunities are growing for patients to get involved in medical communications. A growing number of key influencers are supporting patient authorship, including the Patient-Centred Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), Patient Focused Medicines Development (PFMD), and medical journals, such as The BMJ. There are also specialist patient-focused journals, including Research Involvement and Engagement, The Patient, Journal of Patient Experience, and Research for All. The European Association of Urology has started a patient track for patient perspective abstracts and presentations, and congresses may also run podcasts targeted at patients. In parallel, organisations such as the Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation (CISCRP) aim to improve health literacy among the public and patients, which should grow the pool of suitable patient author candidates.
Best practice in dashboarding and interactive visualisation for deeper insights from data
- When done properly, data visualisation enhances comprehension and provides new insights into complex data sets.
- Interactive dashboards allow users to formulate their own interrogation of data and so can help to build trust in the data.
The second of the parallel sessions saw Richard White (Oxford PharmaGenesis) give a presentation on data visualisation. White encouraged the audience to not be scared if they are not experts in the area, but to try to explore and experiment with new approaches to presenting data.
Why is data visualisation important?
Approximately 90% of the information transmitted to the brain is visual, and the brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text. Data visualisation is not just about making things attractive: it is quicker and easier for people to interpret visual information. Interactive visualisations engage the audience, facilitating a deeper understanding and helping to build greater trust in the integrity of the data.
Interactive visualisations engage the audience, facilitating a deeper understanding and helping to build greater trust in the integrity of the data.
Data visualisation isn’t new and doesn’t need to be complicated
Although data visualisation is a hot topic, generating much interest and considerable debate in recent years, it isn’t something new. In 1854, John Snow produced a ‘heat map’ of cholera cases on the streets of London to reveal the clustering of cases around a particular water pump, identifying the pump as the source of the disease and alerting the local council to disable the pump, after which the outbreak ended.
Data visualisations, infographics, and dashboards
There is no clear definition of what constitutes a data visualisation and what is an infographic, and how the two differ. In practice, the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. However, White outlined some ways in which he understands the two to differ, including that data visualisations include a single representation of data, and are dynamic and increasingly interactive, whereas infographics tend to combine multiple data representations, and are static, rarely interactive, and often for lay audiences. Dashboards are interactive arrays that are key to the dynamic element of data visualisation, allowing users to drill down into complex data sets.
Best practice in data visualisation
The key principles of data visualisation include the need to understand the:
With numerous types of charts available to show data, selection of the most appropriate option is important. When looking to visualise more complex data sets, it is likely that the more basic chart types such as simple line or bar graphs are not going to be up to the task of presenting the data in a way that is easily comprehended, aids understanding, and generates insights. More sophisticated chart types that can be useful for presenting more complex data sets include:
- heat maps, which show magnitude of a phenomenon using colours/colour intensities in two dimensions, sometimes overlaid on geographical maps (chloropleth maps)
- tree maps, which show the contribution of different components to the whole, usually represented as a rectangular area (the whole) divided up into smaller rectangles (the components)
- Sankey plots, flow diagrams in which the width of the flows between categories indicates the relative quantity taking that path
- Circos plots, which visualise data in a circular layout and are useful for exploring relationships between categories.
Regardless of the type of chart, appropriate use of colour is critical. Generally, the ideal is to use 3–5 colours, as it becomes increasingly difficult for people to interpret the plot as the number of colours rises above 5. Use of a relatively limited colour palette alongside shading and/or variations in colour intensity allows a large amount of information to be presented in a way that is easily interpreted. Recalling the 4 key principles for data visualisation, it is important to think about the channels through which visualisations will be delivered as, for example, 2 colours that are very different on a rainbow scale can appear identical when rendered as greyscale for black-and-white media. Colour choice should also take into account the possibility of users having different types of colour blindness.
Dashboarding best practices
The 4 key principles identified for data visualisation also apply to dashboarding. In this context, there are likely to be multiple messages and the channel is most often a digital device. The particular type of device is an important consideration, and the design and architecture of the dashboard requires careful thought. Greatest visibility and accessibility should be given to the key information and functions, similar to the layout of cockpit information screens for an airline pilot.
The design and architecture of the dashboard requires careful thought. Greatest visibility and accessibility should be given to the key information and functions.
White identified the following 10 principles of good dashboard design:
- Avoid overcrowding.
- Optimise layout/flow.
- Prioritise simplicity.
- Provide context.
- Use the right data visualisation.
- Consider accessibility.
- Use consistent labelling.
- Use interactivity.
- Consider functionality.
- Never stop evolving.
White closed by noting that a range of tools with increasing sophistication and ease of use (as well as increasing cost) are available to assist with data visualisation, along with a variety of courses and resources for those wanting to find out more and develop their skills.
Management of and working successfully in remote team environments
- The shift to remote working during the pandemic has presented both challenges and opportunities for managers and employees.
The third parallel session saw Sarah Lochner Meuler (Avant Healthcare) and David Hogben (Complete HealthVizion) discuss the seismic shift to remote working environments due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The shift to remote working has presented both challenges and opportunities for professionals working in our industries, whether the transition was temporary or permanent. Remote working has removed traditional face-to-face personal context and non-verbal cues that aid interpersonal interactions. Managers may have faced challenges to ensure that their teams remained productive and engaged, and continued to thrive, while employees may have had difficulty feeling connected with their colleagues and balancing their working lives with personal responsibilities (which have often been amplified during the pandemic).
Remote working has removed traditional face-to-face personal context and non-verbal cues that aid interpersonal interactions.
Hogben reviewed a COVID-19 impact survey of employees at a large global medical communications agency network. Respondents with 1 year or less working in the industry reported a higher negative impact on developing and maintaining work relationships, while those with greater than 1 year working in the industry showed a greater negative impact on team/company morale. For those hired during or after March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, there was less of an impact on team/company morale than on those hired before March 2020. Furthermore, most respondents replied that post-COVID-19, they preferred a hybrid work environment, instead of remote only or in office.
Meuler and Hogben also looked ahead, considering how returning to the office or settling into hybrid working patterns can be navigated successfully.
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.