Eric Crown, PhD, Scientific Director, Global Medical Affairs, AbbVie (U.S.)*

Interviewed by Lana Vegman, PharmD, ISMPP CMPP™, Sanofi, US; and Richa Chhabra, M.S. (Pharm.), ISMPP CMPP™, Novartis Healthcare Pvt. Ltd., Hyderabad.

* The opinions expressed within are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s employer.

“What I Would Like You to Know” is an article series that shares perspectives and insights from functional area colleagues that collaborate with medical publication professionals on the planning and development of scientific publications. This article series will appear periodically in The MAP.

This article spotlights a medical affairs expert’s perspective, presented in a question-and-answer format.

What are the key things you want your medical publication colleagues to know from your experience as a medical affairs professional?

It is key to think strategically when working in the medical affairs profession. Developing a publication is not just creating a data dump from the clinical study report; it is telling a story out of that data, which is meaningful for both health care providers (HCPs) and patients. It is essential to provide a “broader context” for the data so that it translates to clinical practice in a given therapeutic area. A scientific communications professional should be able to link “the scientific story” to the “impact it will make on patients and clinical practice.”

What key recommendations would you give to colleagues working on medical publications?

It is not only important for publication professionals to appreciate the tactics of a publication (i.e. how to structure the communication and interpret the results), but also to understand the broader communication strategy for the product. As publications have evolved from “data delivery” to a “strategic dissemination approach” over recent years, publication professionals should contribute as a strategic partner and make every effort to better understand the product strategy and be involved in more strategic conversations with cross-functional teams. The publication professionals should be able to understand how a particular data/publication is helping to bridge an education/knowledge gap. Publication professionals are in a great position because they understand the data; and if they can connect the data to the overarching communication strategy, they become an invaluable member of the matrix organization.

What is your biggest challenge when contributing to the development of medical communications?

The biggest challenge is to bring out the “so what” or the “broader context” of the data (i.e. how the data can be interpreted in a meaningful manner for HCPs or patients). For instance, what does improvement in a particular scale mean for the patients in that therapeutic area, and how is the product going to impact their quality of life? 

What is one improvement you would suggest for the development of medical communications today?

There have been a lot of advancements in technology in terms of virtual reality and augmented reality. These technologies can be leveraged better to transform poster/congress presentations to incorporate more interactive elements. For example, when the end user focuses the phone on a particular part of the poster, such as a graph, it can lead the user to a video where a detailed interpretation of the results is presented to make the data easier to understand. While more technology has been incorporated into publications and congresses recently, there is still more untapped potential to enhance education through use of technology.

Do you feel that the Medical Affairs profession was ready for the quick virtual/digital integration that occurred as a result of COVID-19? If yes, why? If no, why not? 

No, I don’t feel that, as a profession, we were ready, because the adaption of technology was slow, and we were not ready for full integration to occur. Though congresses, authors, and journals have adapted well with even virtual symposia this year, there are additional tools for virtual meetings that we could have leveraged (for example, using Zoom or Adobe Captivate), and there is still room to grow. All this suggests that when we are pushed in a situation, we are able to figure out new ways to have scientific interactions and to continue to involve audiences, even when we cannot be together in person.

Which 1-2 Medical Affairs activities do you anticipate will see the greatest evolution in the next couple of years and why?

I think symposia and education events will see the greatest changes. Use of more interactive technology during symposia and educational events has allowed these programs to evolve quite rapidly and change the way they are run. Events have gone from didactic 2-3 presenter symposia to a more interactive event using polling, chat functions, and other technology that really increased the engagement of the audience and subsequent program retention. In the next few years, I see an increased focus on the use of technology to further enhance these types of educational programs.

Another activity that I think will evolve in the next couple of years is the use of interactive technology in Medical booths. With technology, we have the opportunity to quickly answer questions that HCPs have and connect them with information faster. Additionally, technology tools incorporating augmented reality and virtual reality have facilitated “outside of the box” thinking that incorporates more engaging materials, such as interactive videos, into the medical booth, which help to increase engagement and facilitate knowledge sharing in a more educational way.

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