Accessibility, virality and healthy debate: our ISMPP EU 2023 conference report

03 February 2023

Share this page

Share this page on LinkedIn

The ISMPP EU conference took place in London on 24–25 January. Themed around ‘Fueling Creativity’, sessions explored how to access creativity, improve collaboration and arrive at unexpected solutions.

Oxford PharmaGenesis colleagues led lively roundtables on key issues such as accessibility, sustainability and scientific communication platforms, presented posters with co-authors – including one award-winning poster, and asked attendees contentious and topical questions relating to medical communications practice in our healthy debate.

Here’s our report on the event’s learnings and conversations that will continue to shape the field of medical communications throughout 2023.

Roundtable: Much ado about access

Led by Joana Osório (Communications Consultant, Oxford PharmaGenesis) and Paul Farrow (Executive Director, Europe, Oxford PharmaGenesis), this roundtable explored how pharma can ensure that clinical research becomes more accessible.

Attendees discussed how there is general support from pharma for open access publications, but there are barriers to wider adoption such as senior leadership buy-in to lower-tier journals, lingering concerns around predatory publishers and questions regarding payment of article processing charges. Also, publishers don’t always offer the same publishing licences to pharma and academic authors.

Roundtable attendees thought that open access policies at the company level could lead to higher levels of open access, but that not all pharma companies are ready to implement them. Some publishers may, however, be willing to explore transformative agreements with pharma companies.

Article enhancements are viewed as being useful to many audiences and are not just for patients.  However, discoverability remains a challenge; for instance, getting plain language summaries indexed in PubMed is challenging. Many people working in publications don’t know much about digital discoverability, including SEO (search engine optimization) and metadata. ‘Plain language’ documents are sometimes still not accessible enough.

Dialogue with publishers is important and it was thought that industry organizations such as ISMPP and EMWA should play a part in discussions.

Roundtable: Innovating to improve sustainability in medical communications

Over two sessions, Paul Tisdale (Communications Director, Oxford PharmaGenesis), Sarah Thomas (Global Medical Publications and Communication Senior Manager, Ipsen) and attendees discussed issues relating to the environmental impact of medical communications.

They discussed what could motivate changes to support greater sustainability. While it was clear that there was enthusiasm to be more sustainable, few people had examples of actions that had been taken. It was perceived that changes offering cost savings have been readily accepted (e.g. fewer in-person meetings) but changes that cost more money and time are yet to be readily embraced (e.g. long-distance rail travel). No one at the roundtable was aware of agencies being asked by clients to provide green credentials before agreeing to partner; although there is evidence that this may be a criterion for procurement in the near future.

A lack of data to support decision-making was identified as a barrier – without data, many decisions are being made based on a ‘gut feeling’ for what is the more sustainable option. This is potentially preventing people from making the best choices.

The groups also discussed how congresses could be managed. Hub-and-spoke models for congresses have the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of the pharma industry but have not been widely adopted. Alternatively, congress organizers could consider rotating the format between virtual and in-person, while proximity chat functions such as Gather could provide a better virtual experience for poster sessions at meetings.

Reducing the number of people flying long-haul to attend meetings was thought to have the greatest potential impact on sustainability. But the consensus was that while virtual meetings offer greater inclusivity overall, they could reduce networking opportunities for young clinicians and researchers, and this should not be overlooked.

There was strong support among participants for the creation of a forum in which pharma companies and congress organizers can discuss ways to reduce the carbon footprint of events (e.g. parallel congresses in different regions). An ISMPP working group could help to start the conversation.

The groups also discussed how pharma companies are innovating to make medical booths more sustainable (e.g. the use of recycled and recyclable materials, modular/reusable construction). Technological innovation may play a role in future. For example, medical booths could potentially be replaced with virtual reality headsets, providing opportunities to take the booth to more locations, although it was acknowledged there would be cost and accessibility issues to consider.

Regarding publications and online resources, there was a concern that enduring materials that are also accessible online may have a large cumulative carbon footprint. None of the participants were aware of an audit on the potential scale or impact of this.

When considering personal steps that employees could take, some participants said they had used apps such as CO2Hero to support intra-company competitions to reduce their environmental footprint. Employees are also keen to know where their pension funds are invested.

Roundtable: Creating consistent communication through effective scientific communication platform (SCP) socialization

Gemma Rogers (Communications Director, Oxford PharmaGenesis) and Tomas Rees (Director of Innovation, Oxford PharmaGenesis) presented this roundtable, sharing advice and best practice that included the following.

  • Ensure that you know your purpose and stakeholders at the outset and involve them in development, to make sure that the SCP is aligned to their needs and that they are invested in it.
  • Make the SCP interactive, either as an interactive document or a dynamic web resource.
  • Solicit feedback passively (e.g. by providing an option to give feedback directly from the webpage) and actively (e.g. by surveying your target stakeholders).
  • Start socializing as soon as practicable with key stakeholder representatives to get buy-in at the start of the process and with the wider group of stakeholders once a working draft is available.
  • Be prepared for a rolling process as stakeholders/audiences evolve over the life cycle. The use of digital channels can support with providing metrics, alongside more active analysis (e.g. linguistic usage mapping).
  • Think about how to ensure that the patient voice is reflected; consider the use of a separate lay SCP instead of one medical SCP with differing lexicon.

Posters: from ACCORD to ORCID, and an award winner

Along with many partner organizations and co-authors, we presented posters of our work including:

We also won the conference’s award for the poster ‘most reflective of meeting theme’ (Fueling Creativity) with Why did it go viral? An informatics-based case study of exaggerated language in news and social media, co-authored with representatives from Dasman Diabetes Institute and Novartis.

The poster, which you can view here, looked at the viral news and social media sensationalism around a study presented at ASCO 2022. We used informatics and artificial intelligence techniques to examine the news and social media impact of the study, and found that exaggerated language used in some news articles substantially overemphasized the narrative of this clinical trial, and likely played a key role in the viral spread of information.

View our posters and the details of partner organizations here.

Our healthy debate

Can we ever have true creativity without true inclusivity? How should the pharmaceutical industry respond to health equity issues? Do digital enhancements improve accessibility or do they just paper over the gap?

We asked these questions and more in our healthy debate, inviting attendees to come to the Oxford PharmaGenesis conference booth and share thoughts on some of the most pressing questions in the HealthScience communications space.

Effective innovation happens when we ask big questions. It’s part of what makes Oxford PharmaGenesis an award-winning, independent, global HealthScience communications consultancy.

We offer expertise in publications, strategic medical communications, informatics and data science, patient engagement, value demonstration, Open Pharma and more.

Get in touch for a chat about your objectives, and let’s explore new frontiers!