Allison M. Galway, MS, ISMPP CMPP™, Chameleon Communications International, Inc.*, New York, NY, USA; Sandra Harris, PhD, ISMPP CMPP™, ProEd Communications Inc.*, Beachwood, OH, USA; Dina Marenstein, PhD, ISMPP CMPP™, Chameleon Communications International, Inc.*, New York, NY, USA; Rajni Dogra, PhD, Chameleon Communications International, Ltd*, London, UK; Saskia Bijvank, MSc, Excerpta Medica, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

*A Healthcare Consultancy Group company; †An Adelphi Group company

A snapshot of rapid adjustments to medical publications planning

Public health measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus quickly impacted many medical publication activities, including data collection, data release at congresses, and author participation in publications. This article presents the findings of a survey on the immediate and anticipated impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on medical publication activities, key concerns, and evolving solutions to support effective communication of medical research under these unique circumstances.

Publication professionals from across the Omnicom Health Group agencies, including Adelphi Group and Healthcare Consultancy Group, collaborated to survey publication leaders from pharmaceutical and biotech companies, and the agencies supporting them, to better understand their views, concerns, and the immediate and longer-term impact on activities.

The survey ran from April 2, 2020 to April 28, 2020, and 17 responses were received. Selected results showing the impact on compliance, as well as short- and long-term plans are highlighted here; the full results are available within the appendix located at the end of the article. Note: respondents were able to select more than one answer and total responses may exceed 100%.

Figure 1. The most frequently cited areas of uncertainty were new compliance considerations that focused on the shift to virtual/online content, and questions regarding authorship.

COVID-19 containment measures had an immediate impact on scientific congresses. The cancellation and postponement of congresses were followed by a rapid move online and the increased use of virtual/digital formats. When asked to consider compliance uncertainties associated with the transition to virtual content:

  • 71% of respondents selected the need to review and approve scripts and the final video for online presentations
  • 41% of respondents identified a need for legal and regulatory review of Q&As in virtual chats, or to review and approve all author comments received in a virtual chat

Within a month of the implementation of COVID-19 containment measures, 59% of publication professionals had identified the need to establish rules and timelines on authorship, as authors became increasingly unavailable. ISMPP guidance on authorship criteria released during the pandemic provides timely information on how to proceed with COVID-19-related delays in author responsiveness.1 

Figure 2. Contingency plans implemented to maintain robust publications planning.

By the time of the survey, most respondents (82%) had met or were planning to meet with their internal stakeholders to adjust publications planning priorities.

To note, three additional strategies to ensure robust publications planning stood out and were each selected by 71% of respondents:

  • Taking advantage of virtual options to enhance posters, with the aim to generate discussions by reusing these materials
  • Withdrawing abstracts from cancelled or online congresses and submitting them to a meeting later in the year
  • Refocusing efforts on manuscripts, including using fast-track options when possible  

The intended refocus on manuscripts indicates the strategic need to ensure that priority data are published independent of the ability to present at a congress. Whether the intended refocus on manuscripts continues as a long-term strategy may be dependent on the reach and effectiveness of future live and/or virtual congresses. Interestingly, less than 30% of respondents are currently considering the use of a preprint server or other alternative publication venue. The use of preprint servers to disseminate results of COVID-19 studies has resulted in a debate about the value of preprints, with some authors very positive about the record speed at which data are being shared and others pointing out the value of peer review. The potential risks and benefits of rapidly posting research results on a preprint server must be weighed against the potential delays in peer-reviewed publications that are not directly related to COVID-19 given how busy editors and peer reviewers have become. The pandemic has highlighted that independent peer-reviewed publications remain a critical communication channel.

The need for iterative planning remains key, and publication professionals have shown the priority is to adapt rapidly to refocus activities while remaining compliant. With much uncertainty remaining over the duration and the longer-term impact of the pandemic, this may serve as an impetus to consider newer digital/virtual options in lieu of live meetings or that extend the reach of published content beyond the live or virtual congress participants.

Figure 3. Current disruption will likely change strategic approaches in the long term.

These survey results may suggest a broader impact of the pandemic on business activities; online activities and digital strategies, which were once considered supporting activities, may now take the lead. It is expected that, even when live events resume, hybrid live–digital models will increase, and many of the digital options offered by congresses in response to the pandemic, including audio posters, virtual Q&A sessions, and even the ability to participate in congresses remotely, will become standard. Confirming the intention of embracing these virtual options, many respondents (53%) predicted an increased reliance on digital outputs for communications in the long term, and 24% cited plans for developing a social media strategy for data dissemination. Tying publications activities to a social media strategy has always been challenging in the healthcare industry due to regulatory and compliance considerations, but the present-day communication landscape in light of the pandemic is providing an opportunity to reconsider all channels.   


The results of this survey provide interesting insights into the rapid adjustments made by medical publication professionals in response to the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the number of respondents is modest, the findings are consistent with other surveys, including those conducted recently by ISMPP.2,3 The responses highlight the need to continue to revisit publications plans – tracking hybrid or digital opportunities and refining the approaches as new information becomes available.

It is also crucial to note that while the current focus on disseminating results from COVID-19 studies confirms the importance of scientific rigor and clear communication among publication professionals and to the wider readership, it also presents a challenge. There is still a pressing need to continue to disseminate data in a timely and effective manner, irrespective of therapy area, and to do so in an accurate and accessible way that provides appropriate clinical context.

In order to understand the key strategies that will be effective in the post-COVID world, further research is needed on both the immediate and long-term impact of the pandemic on medical publishing – whether directly or indirectly, due to author availability, journal interest, volume, or logistical conflicts. As the global response and recovery continues to evolve, a rapid return to business as usual is unlikely, and the impact on medical publications is expected to be long term; however, whether the effect will be transformative remains to be seen.  


1ISMPP Official Guidance on Authorship of Peer-review Publications in Which Coronavirus Disease Has Impacted Author Responsiveness – March 2020. Accessed June 2, 2020.

2ISMPP University: Coronavirus (COVID-19): Its Impact on Publication Planning. . Accessed May 29, 2020.

3Projected Impact of COVID-19 on 2020 Publications. Accessed June 1, 2020.


Figure 1. The most frequently cited areas of uncertainty were new compliance considerations that focused on the shift to virtual/online content, and questions regarding authorship.

Figure 2. Contingency plans implemented to maintain robust publications planning.

Figure 3. Current disruption will likely change strategic approaches in the long term.

Figure 4. Option of posting presentations online based on company policy and congress direction.

Figure 5. Additional preparations anticipated for digital oral presentations.

Figure 6. Majority expect impact on timelines due to reviews required for virtual options.

Figure 7. Most are interested in receiving further guidance.

%d bloggers like this: