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Communicating for change – creating effective medical communications

By Chris O’Toole

Medical communications in 2021 is quite different from even two years ago, and vastly different from when I joined this industry in 1995.

And we are in far better shape. Medical communications once meant reaching a physician through a sales rep, journals and congresses and a few other tactical means.

Nowadays I consider effective medical communications as reaching all whose actions affect (and effect) a successful medical outcome in a way that improves interactions and results.

Physicians, advance practice providers, payers and of course patients are all legitimate stakeholders whom we must reach and involve in discussions about optimal care.

We have amazing resources and tools available to us: real-world data, patient- reported outcomes, libraries of clinical outcomes, and dramatically increased access to healthcare professionals (HCPs) and patients via smart phones and telehealth.

However, we must use that access and information respectfully. HCPs and patients are inundated with endless streams of information, most of it meaningless and irrelevant. We must know our audience and respect their time. Considerate communications, and using words and images that are quickly and easily understood, means a better likelihood of change. Here are two examples of this:

1. We are now producing Plain Language Summaries (PLS) for our clients. Required by many journals, the PLS should convey the same information as the abstract but in a different language and tone, without jargon, so that it is understandable by scientists from outside the author’s discipline, as well as by science journalists and science educators. So, for example, this can improve connections between others involved in interdisciplinary research looking for points of connection.

2. When patients and their caregivers understand what they are being told (ie have a suitable degree of ‘health literacy’), they can have a more productive conversation with their HCP team, resulting in smarter decisions that lead to better care and improved outcomes.

Health literacy is defined by the US Department of Health and Human Services as the ‘degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, access and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions’. Yet only 12% of adults in the US have proficient health literacy and, more concerning, 14% of adults (30 million people) have below basic health literacy, meaning they can read at only a 5th-grade level (10 years old). Consumer medication information is written at a 10th-grade level (15-16 years old), so the challenge is clear: write what people can understand.

People living with medical conditions want to hear from others like themselves in ways they can understand. They trust hearing ‘the same voice’ as theirs. Sharing those voices with HCPs is essential, for example when communicating about clinical trials, whether during recruitment, communicating during the study or providing summaries afterwards.

There are several reasons this is important:

  • People from diverse backgrounds, including race, ethnicity, age, with diverse underlying conditions want to be included in trials. FDA guidance from November 2020 is intended to ensure that people participating in trials represent the populations most likely to use the investigational product.
  • For many in these populations, a clinical trial provides the best access to care: for many it is ‘the standard of care’ we all talk about. It must be clear how and for whom these trials are available.
  • Supporting investigators and their teams to find, attract and keep participants in care through the use of effective communications tools can improve clinical outcomes for those in the trial, and others like them if and when the drug becomes available for use.

And that takes us to payers. It is well understood that we must reach formulary decision-makers with compelling evidence based on health economic and outcomes research. Whether in the public or private sector in Europe or the United States, we must generate and communicate meaningful information that allows thorough evaluation of the product’s clinical and economic value so that clinical care can be improved.

So is it ‘medical communications’ when our teams and others like them undertake a targeted/systematic literature review and network meta-analysis of clinical literature
to support initial pricing and market access considerations for forecasting, product value, positioning options and patient segmentation? I’d say yes because effective commercial evidence evaluation and planning better informs payers and formulary executives as they decide on new clinical options.

So our role as scientific writers, health economists and market access executives, epidemiologists and communicators is clear. To repeat, we must understand the marketplace, the goals of our customers and the patients they serve, to help effect successful medical outcomes in a way that improves interactions and results.

Chris O’Toole is Vice President, Commercial Solutions at ICON

In association with

29th July 2021

From: Marketing

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