COVID-19 has impacted our industry – but it's not all bad news

30 November 2020

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Oxford PharmaGenesis attended the Australasian Medical Writers Association (AMWA) special virtual event showcasing the ways in which medical communication has changed in 2020.

Oxford PharmaGenesis was proud to sponsor the AMWA 2020 special virtual event, ‘Medical Writing and Communication During the COVID-19 Crisis’, which took place on 19 November, in lieu of what would have been AMWA’s 37th annual conference. The event featured insightful presentations from experts in our field and a lively Q&A session, thanks to a highly engaged audience.

Professor Nicholas Talley, Editor-in-Chief of the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA), discussed the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated several trends in medical journal publishing but also exposed some weaknesses in publication practice that need to be addressed. The pandemic has led to a surge in manuscript submissions to journals around the world, which was unexpected given the workload of healthcare professionals over the past 12 months. It was also critically important to be able to share this research as quickly as possible, which was not feasible given the robust peer-review process associated with journal publications. The MJA approached this challenge by establishing a preprint server in March 2020 and developing a rapid-review process for preprints, which involved internal review, statistical review and multiple-peer review, the goal being to make most preprints available online within 48 hours of receiving them. As Professor Talley stated, however, it is not without its risks, given the rapid dissemination of cherry-picked data by traditional and social media. This is where medical writers, media personalities and journalists must play a key role – judicious reporting is critical for ensuring that the public are receiving accurate and balanced scientific information amid a health crisis.

A presentation by Professor Ginny Barbour, Director of the Australasian Open Access Strategy Group, touched on the practical aspects of ensuring open access in a high-demand situation such as a pandemic, and how our current ‘digital infrastructure’ can prepare us for the next medical emergency. Content, once collected, is now essentially completely ‘mineable’, an enormous advance over the last pandemic we were faced with. During the Ebola outbreak, access to content was only possible with great political pressure on the publishers; furthermore, the content could not be shared to the database quickly and was withdrawn from open access within a matter of years. A critical area of focus is therefore to encourage publishers to prepare for, and be open to, the rapid dissemination of content to a centralized database for the purposes of time-sensitive data analysis. Professor Barbour ended the presentation with some important advice for medical writers and journalists communicating during a pandemic: “scientific truth is a moving target”. We, as well as the public, must learn to embrace uncertainty but, fortunately, all research – whether it be preliminary findings, negative studies, confirmations or refutations – will eventually bring us closer to finding answers.

Our thanks to AMWA for organizing these fascinating presentations, and it is encouraging to see ongoing advocacy for ‘open pharma’.