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Advancing Our Profession: Driving Leadership and Best Practices in Medical Communications – Key themes and highlights from the 2022 European Meeting of ISMPP

Nucleus Global’s Priya Sagoo shares her thoughts on this year’s European meeting

I had the pleasure of attending this year’s virtual European Meeting of the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP Europe), which comprised a thought-provoking blend of sessions around the theme of ‘Advancing Our Profession: Driving Leadership and Best Practices in Medical Communications’. This focus particularly resonates with me, as it highlights the value of medical publication professionals, not only in ensuring that data are shared with healthcare professionals, but also with the public. Overall, there were many interesting themes and discussions; however, the following particularly grabbed my attention and provided food for thought.

Diversity and inclusion at the forefront

Diversity and inclusion in medical research and publication development were examined and presented by Pauline Frank, Shirin Heidari, Sheila Khawaja, Kamlesh Khunti, and Nichola Gokool. The presentations highlighted the need for everyone involved in publication development to play a role in ensuring diversity and inclusion. An example included ensuring all groups are represented within medical research especially when considering adverse events. This is important beyond merely reaching a quota and should be informed by trends or differences that may occur in minority populations; thereby ensuring that medical research is truly representative. One point of note was that pharmaceutical companies should do more to increase diversity among the healthcare professionals that they involve in clinical trial recruitment. In addition, and from the perspective of journal publishers, the importance of including clear guidance on the appropriate reporting of sex, gender, and ethnicity within journals’ instructions for authors was discussed, along with a call to action for more diversity within peer-review panels. This topic was the focus of a poster that I co-authored, which explored the availability of diversity- and inclusion-related guidelines in 60 biomedical journals across six different medical publication-specific therapy areas. Our analysis showed that although nearly 60% of journals had information in their guidelines on this topic, there was a general lack of consistency and accessibility (Hawkins et al. ISMPP EU2022, poster #31, January 2022; https://bit.ly/3Gt4jvQ).

Continuing impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on medical publication professionals was also examined by Tim Day, John McConnell, and Susan Hopkins. Their discussions emphasised that the pandemic has accelerated normalising working from home or in a hybrid setting and has typically afforded us more flexible working conditions. However, many of us have also faced a decline in our mental health as the result of additional stressors, such as longer working hours (perhaps caused by an inability to ‘switch off’ from our day job) and an increased struggle with our career development, often due to mental health considerations, family commitments and other health concerns. While it is clear that medical publication professionals are not alone in this situation and that many industries are also facing the same issues, a key learning was that self-care is vital for improved mental health and professional development. This is something I hope to be able to focus on more in my day-to-day role and to also encourage among my colleagues.

New tools and updated guidelines

The meeting also showcased some important upcoming guidelines and newly available tools, including an author selection algorithm and an update to Good Publication Practice (GPP4), presented by Daniel Bridges, Will Gattrell, Niall Harrison, Avishek Pal, and Fiona Plunkett. This session highlighted the constant evolution of publication practices and how our industry can adapt in a way that is supportive of all stakeholders. The ISMPP author selection algorithm aims to allow users to quantify author contribution to assess author inclusion and to consider each author’s position within the author list; hopefully helping to remove bias, increase transparency, and select authors based on their true contribution. The question of whether the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) authorship criteria continue to be the ‘best’ way to assess authorship was raised since many individuals fulfill ICMJE criterion 1 (“Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work”). The author selection algorithm aims to place additional emphasis on the contribution that authors make to the publication, aiming to ensure recognition and a fair selection process. The main themes of GPP4 were also discussed and future topics will include guidance on the role of patients in publication development, the inclusion of other publication types (e.g., real-world evidence and health economics research), and recommendations on enhanced content, social media, and journal selection. These further updates and clarifications will be greatly appreciated.

More can be done to include the patient voice

The ISMPP Europe meeting provided multiple perspectives; the importance of the patient voice was highlighted in almost every session. While the presence of the patient voice in medical research publications has increased over time, there is still much to be done in this space. This includes not only ensuring that patients are included during clinical trial design, protocol review, and as authors on publications, but also by making sure that patients are recognised, thanked, and acknowledged for their important role within medical research. Additional opportunities were presented by publishers who have begun to adapt to this need by developing new publication formats for patient perspectives. Plain language summaries were also highlighted as a key tool for patient engagement; not only for patients and carers but also for audiences without specialist knowledge of a therapy area.

Progress within digital health

Finally, digital health and enhanced content was also discussed throughout the meeting, with a conversation focusing on how we can continue to improve the reach of publications. A round-table discussion on digital enhancements identified challenges with company compliance around social media, copyright limitations, short timelines, and selecting appropriate digital formats. Infographics and plain language summaries were considered the most effective digital enhancements to implement, largely due to the shorter timelines required for initial development compared with other assets, such as video summaries. Discussions around the importance of digital health and artificial intelligence on how we approach publication activities provided some interesting insights into how the publications landscape is evolving, e.g., developments in digital health are making it easier to collect data from patients via mobile phone applications. This observation was supported by a poster presentation on trends in digital health publications, which won the ISMPP Europe 2022 award: ‘Most reflective of meeting theme’. This poster provided evidence that digital health technologies have advanced rapidly in recent years, resulting in a different landscape than what is seen with more traditional medical data (poster title: Characterization of the medical publications landscape in digital health during the 2010–2020 period, authored by Weedon et al. ISMPP EU2022, poster #35, January 2022; https://bit.ly/3ooLljZ).

Once again, the ISMPP Europe meeting brought together a diverse group of individuals from across the medical communications industry and celebrated the importance of medical publications, while facilitating best practice sharing and discussion. Being able to witness our industry coming together to discuss challenges and working together to find solutions and new opportunities was a fantastic experience. The meeting agenda included key topics of interest and I personally found the meeting useful in increasing my understanding of the ongoing conversations and changes within medical communications.

Priya Sagoo, CMPP, Account Director, Health Interactions (a Nucleus Global agency)

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4th February 2022

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