Heidi A. Schreiber, PhD, and Todd Parker, PhD, ISMPP CMPP™; MedThink SciCom, Cary, NC, USA
In today’s world, the need for pharmaceutical companies to quickly publish and disseminate their data is higher than ever. And, although fast is fine, accuracy is everything. As we rush forward, we need to ensure that publication planning goes beyond just dissemination of data. Instead, it should accurately identify knowledge gaps among key audiences and ensure that publications fulfill those specific educational needs or gaps. A publication plan or data dissemination plan is the cornerstone of a product’s communication strategy, and, at the end of the day, it should be like a perfect smile – free of gaps. Properly vetting a publication plan involves asking questions – lots and lots of questions.
While answers obtained from asking questions of publication team members, such as publication leads, members of publication steering committees, and medical affairs and clinical development teams, certainly have value, there is also a wealth of information to be gleaned from conversations with your company’s broader communication team. Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs), Medical Information, Medical Directors, and health economics and outcomes research (HEOR) experts are all examples of other team members who can provide their own unique perspective regarding the knowledge gaps of external audiences and how external audiences perceive therapeutic areas or products.
Value of Individual Teams
Engaging the broader communication team provides a golden opportunity to obtain insights that come straight from the external audiences you are trying to reach. For example:
- MSLs may be well positioned to provide insights into what scientific questions need to be answered based on their day-to-day interactions with healthcare professionals (HCPs). MSLs have firsthand knowledge of where the gaps in communication are, and they likely have ideas on how to best address these gaps with specific publications.
- Inquiries received through Medical Information can shed light on product-specific unmet needs. They may also be able to provide a quantitative breakdown of inquiries by subject (eg, administration and handling, mechanism of action, adverse events) and stratified by audience (eg, HCPs, nurses, pharmacists). If Medical Information is frequently being asked about topics and information that have already been addressed in publications, these queries may provide insights into opportunities for encore abstracts or short communications.
- Medical Directors can also speak to educational needs of different audiences based on their involvement in studies or advisory boards or through insights gained at conferences.
- HEOR leads can provide insights into educational needs of audiences that are less frequently reached by other team members (eg, payers, managed markets).
Asking Questions and Deciding How to Utilize Information
Once you have identified broader communication team members available to you in your organization, the next step is to determine the best method to facilitate and open the line of communication. The methodology used to ask questions and obtain information varies and is constantly evolving with available technologies to best support the desired objectives. Internal interviews, email questionnaires, online surveys, and virtual forums are just a few of the methods used to acquire information from these team members. Experience has shown that asking pointed questions that delve into people’s inherent knowledge yields the most fruitful information. (See Table 1 below.)
Table 1. Examples of Questions for Broader Communication Team Members
While information obtained from broader communication team members may resolve some uncertainty about knowledge gaps, the next step is for the publication team to decide how to utilize that information as they develop a publication plan. Information from external audiences often helps prioritize certain publication objectives and tactics over others. However, it may not always be feasible to address information on gaps and educational needs gained from these team members through publications. If addressing an identified gap is deemed a high priority and data are readily available, an actionable, tactical plan can be devised. If current data are lacking, this information may guide evidence generation efforts, facilitate future clinical trial design, or suggest a future shift in communication objectives. In some cases, other internal resources generated from outside the publication team may be better options to address the need (eg, Medical Information letter, MSL slide deck).
Consider a product that has been approved in the United States within the past year and is about to launch in Europe. In this scenario, the communication team may want to reach out to (1) many of the broader US communication team members to obtain information on how the product is being used and what initial concerns some target audiences may have, and (2) EU communication team members to gain insight into how the new product is perceived given the current state of publications. Asking questions, such as those shown in Table 1 above, may reveal valuable insights. Medical Information in the United States may reveal an unexpectedly high number of queries regarding administration and handling, suggesting a need for more administration- and handling-focused communication resources, such as training decks for nurses and pharmacists. Medical Science Liaisons from Europe may report that while the pivotal publication was informative, local physicians are particularly interested in safety and efficacy in patients from their own geographical area. This may warrant a subgroup analysis of the primary data set in a local patient population.
Benefits of a Well-Vetted Publication Plan
The legendary National Football League coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” The benefits of a well-vetted publication plan extend far beyond the company and have the potential to optimize patient care through successful communication of data that target the appropriate audiences and address knowledge gaps. Engaging broader communication team members, such as MSLs and Medical Information who interact directly with external stakeholders in the publication planning process, is not only a way to obtain valuable information, but also makes strategic publication planning a commitment for everyone.