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Challenges and opportunities during a changing environment for scientific communications – key themes from the ISMPP EU 2021 meeting

Nucleus Global’s Ashley Porter shares his thoughts from this year’s ISMPP EU 2021 meeting

This year the European Meeting of the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP EU) went virtual for the first time and covered the topic of “collaboration, connectivity and change: a holistic view of the scientific communications environment in 2021” (https://www.ismpp.org/2021-european-meeting-agenda). The meeting included many fantastic speakers and panel discussions and covered a number of different key themes that demonstrated just how important the role of scientific communications is in our industry, particularly in the current global environment.

Of course, a major theme of this year’s meeting was the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. What has become obvious is that the last year has brought not only challenges but also opportunities for the industry and there are some positive changes that many expect to last into the future. By removing the need for travel, virtual congresses have provided a new flexibility and opened up attendance to a larger and broader audience. The use of digital formats has also allowed for greater incorporation of digital extenders and interactivity, and the expectation is that digital or at least hybrid meetings are here to stay. Smart technology had already changed the way various stakeholders consume information and there was already a desire from HCPs for more downloadable, bitesize content that can be viewed on the go – the pandemic has accelerated this and this has resulted in a behavioural change overnight. Non-traditional formats for scientific information such as social media, mobile content, and podcasts are increasingly popular, and it is important that the scientific community continues to embrace this change in order to meet the needs and expectations of a variety of audiences.

Another key theme was how patient interest in healthcare advances has never been greater. The public discussion around clinical trials and vaccine development over the last year has been huge and this has resulted in increased interest and understanding of these topics. Throughout the meeting it was stressed that patients should remain the priority in everything that we do and should be considered a key stakeholder in both science communications and the clinical trial process. Plain language summaries are important, but we should think beyond these and consider other ways to ensure scientific data are made more widely available. It was noted that patient advocacy groups play a key role here and the inclusion of patient-focussed material should be an integral part of the overall scientific communication plan. As part of this, it is really important to understand these different audiences, the type of information they are looking for, and where they are getting their information. Again, non-traditional formats such as social media were flagged as increasingly popular, with digital influencers playing a key role. The consensus is that this should be embraced by the scientific community to ensure information is being communicated in an effective way. There was also a thought-provoking keynote session by Becca Wilson from the University of Liverpool, which discussed ableism in medical research, accessibility of medical information to disabled people, and the importance of ensuring the inclusion and representation of disabled people in medical research.

A third key theme focussed on misinformation and trust in the COVID-19 era. There is evidence that public trust in the pharmaceutical industry might be improving as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the public are not engaging with the pharmaceutical industry directly (e.g., through their digital platforms), possibly due to a lack of awareness. By contrast, other sources such as charities and public health services remain among the most trusted sources of information. In addition, most people get their information from mass media or social media and there are challenges here in terms of ensuring scientific information is reported in a scientifically accurate way. This was the topic of a poster by Nucleus Global, which discussed the role of scientific publications in driving public discussion around treatments of COVID-19 (http://ismpp-eu-2021-scientific-pubs-covid19-poster.eustaging1.n24i.com/poster.pdf). There was also a keynote session by Tracey Brown, Director at Sense About Science, a UK-based charity that campaigns for open and honest reporting of research and which challenges misrepresentation of scientific evidence in public discourse. A particular focus of their group is ensuring the public have access to sufficient scientific data and background knowledge to process and understand the information that is being presented to them and that is being used by government in policy decision making. What was clear from the meeting was that the role of scientific communications in building public trust and understanding of science has never been more important.

The ISMPP meeting itself was an excellent example of just how successful congresses and organisations can be when embracing the huge changes that have occurred over the last year. A number of different topics were covered that discussed both the challenges and opportunities. As somebody working within the scientific communications industry, I found the meeting extremely helpful in understanding this changing landscape and I appreciated the opportunity to hear from a variety of different stakeholders. Moving forward, it seems a key focus should be to ensure that we maintain the overall increase in public interest in science and make the most of the opportunities that the last year has brought to our industry.

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11th February 2021

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