Todd Parker, PhD, ISMPP CMPP™, MedThink SciCom; Robert J. Matheis, PhD, MA, ISMPP CMPP™, International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP)
As the medical communications field rapidly evolves, the scale and scope of our profession are expanding. What are the areas that publication professionals need to learn about and what skills will be needed to be successful in 2025? ISMPP leaders and members contributed insights for a graphic capture project this year (see Figure 1), and more insights were compiled than we could share in the 16th Annual Meeting of ISMPP short-form video.
As a new year begins, this article dives deeper into 5 areas that global contributors identified when asked, “How will our field change in the next 5 years, and what are the top skills needed to be prepared to lead that change?” While the answers may not surprise you, what will is how consistent the observations were and how much we need to refine and enhance our skills and knowledge to be equipped as the future leaders of medical communications.
1. An expansion in concurrent, multichannel communications that will be more strategic, targeted, and metrics-driven
This current environment has brought the role of medical communication professionals into sharper focus. It is increasingly clear that we have a broader remit to combine knowledge and abilities with storytelling, to ensure that data are understood by broader audiences, and to meet the expectations of digitally sophisticated stakeholders (see Figure 2). This approach moves away from the linear and oftentimes glacial publication model to concurrent multichannel communications and modalities, fully embracing emerging digital technologies to reach multiple stakeholders, by:
- Enhancing use of tools and technology (eg, better tagging to facilitate online searches)
- Delivering content via customized channels
- Embracing publication as a continuum instead of an endpoint, as content can be reworked, refreshed, or updated to reach relevant audiences
This less tactical and more strategic, precision-targeted model also requires taking the step to measure the value of our communication activities. We need to better understand how to measure the effectiveness of what we are doing across communication channels, apply those learnings to reinforce our strategy, and correct course as needed along the way.
“The current trends that will have the greatest effect on the future of our profession are those that require us to examine whether we’re truly effective as communicators.”
VP, Managing Director
2. Evolving type and format of content shared by publication professionals in alignment with changes in how a broader audience consumes information
The shift from a model of simply publishing data to one of effectively translating data for utilization by multiple stakeholders first requires developing holistic communication plans that comprise a greater range of deliverables beyond publications (see Figure 3). Content is evolving to support the needs of audiences that include not only healthcare providers but also digital opinion leaders, patients, and caregivers, as well as a growing range of stakeholders within pharmaceutical companies.
This landscape requires an appreciation of enhancements that surround publications, which can quickly and effectively be repurposed to support training efforts, medical affairs initiatives, external communications, and patient-centric activities. These publication enhancements may include bite-sized summaries, infographics, podcasts, author videos, and data visualizations. Visual, audience-friendly materials can bring clarity to key points, with increased consideration for health literacy as data are shared across audiences. Publication professionals will also help establish the groundwork for patient partnership in medical communications throughout planning, content development, and deployment.
“I genuinely believe that now there is a real appetite—and from patient organizations and patients themselves, a real demand—for publication enhancements such as plain language summaries and engaging infographics that help make the content of our publications more readily accessible to everyone.”
Global Medical Publications and Communications Director
3. Geographic barriers will recede as we develop customizable content that can be more easily and rapidly accessed while retaining the integrity of scientific content
Equal access to data is frequently cited as one of the most important trends in publications and medical communications (see Figure 4). As geographic barriers recede, we are approaching the reality of open science, with full embrace of “open access” publishing. Open science is now evolving to “citizen science,” with continued engagement from patients and communities, reaching out to audiences with customizable content and appropriate knowledge base and language. For medical communication professionals, this means not only working effectively in a range of languages but also honing expertise in local adaptation and sharing insights that will resonate throughout global markets.
Even in an era of open science, peer-reviewed publications are expected to remain the foundation of evidence-based medicine. However, the growing prominence of preprints in the pandemic era highlights an appetite for rapid results and an urgency to get data out quickly. As professionals, we need to work to ensure data are accurate even with rapid release and to develop tools with the proper safeguards in place to protect the integrity at the core of all medical communications—maintaining the “badge of peer review.” This process may involve the following:
- Contributing to best practice guidance for use of preprint servers
- Protecting the role of peer review while optimizing rapid access to data
- Balancing decreased time to publication with an assurance of scientific rigor
“I think this is where open science becomes ‘citizen science,’ generating real engagement with patients and wider society.”
Chief Executive Officer
4. Digital expertise needs to be built and technology needs to be fully embraced, including artificial intelligence, data mining, wearables, and other emerging platforms
One of the most influential trends in all types of communication has been the digital and virtual revolution (see Figure 5). These innovations have the potential to elevate the primary role of communication professionals from assessing data to understanding how to prioritize and proactively leverage insights gathered from digital sources.
Artificial intelligence will soon be able to automate tasks such as capturing relevant content from publications and online sources and discovering patterns in the data, thereby enabling us to translate the key findings for audiences. For example, a systematic review could be constantly updated using artificial intelligence rather than waiting several years to perform laborious searches for revised content. With digital transformation on the horizon, communication professionals may also expect the following:
- Closer collaboration with real-world data scientists
- Extended reach to digital medicine colleagues
- Greater involvement of citizen scientists generating data through wearables
Virtual platforms will also help facilitate innovation, allowing for rapid data sharing and increased engagement among physician communities.
“Personally, I think 2 of the areas that I will be focusing on in the next 5 years really build on what I’ve been trying to do for the last 10 years—staying abreast and informed of what’s going on in the digital space . . . and then secondly, trying to learn new skills. I am a researcher at heart and love experimenting and trying and learning new things.”
Senior Director, Publications Innovative Solutions Lead
5. The new look for medical congresses will continue beyond the COVID-19 pandemic
Given continued travel restrictions and a limited appetite for large in-person gatherings, one of the most far-reaching effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is a timely reassessment of congress activities. Many communication professionals agreed that the new, modified look for congresses hastened by the pandemic is likely here to stay, even after the COVID-19 pandemic recedes (see Figure 6).
We need to ask ourselves: Were all live congress activities really worth the sizable investment? How many of these events could be just as effective if held virtually? The congress landscape is likely to remain in flux, as different options and models for congresses emerge, such as the following:
- Hybrid live and online presentation
- Fewer live meetings
- Regional (potentially virtual) hubs that connect into a global center
Exhibit halls are moving into virtual platforms, providing the opportunity for medical communications to expand and reach audiences in a completely new space as a medical booth becomes a medical affairs website. There is also a growing convergence between meetings and publications, as a poster with an embedded author video strongly resembles a publication with a video abstract (especially if released simultaneously). Publication professionals, authors, and stakeholders are all relying on new tools to support networking endeavors, enable virtual collaborative review, and present key findings virtually. Publication professionals could play an essential role in the following:
- Advising on optimal user experience during virtual meetings
- Maximizing the potential of publication management software
- Enhanced use of collaborative tools to streamline the planning and review process
“Moving the physical booth lock, stock, and barrel—layout and walls included—onto a virtual platform is fundamentally wrong and not disruptive enough. We should be using the virtual space, in my view, completely differently. No longer bound by the limitations of a physical booth or a congress time window, we could do some amazing things in this space to encourage and support conversations around the new, often practice-changing information and data presented at conferences.”
Global Medical Publications and Communications Director
As we look forward after a year of unprecedented upheaval, one of the most valuable skills we can foster in this profession is to recognize change as an inflection point to adapt and excel.
“To realize the promise of a 2025 vision, it will no longer be sufficient to train on publications, peer-review process, and compliance guidelines. The future is going to require us to think more effectively and much more proactively about how we train publication professionals so that they are equipped to bring full innovation to the data that they’re trying to get out to patients and other healthcare professionals.”
President and Chief Executive Officer
Editorial assistance was provided under the direction of the authors by Rebecca E. Slager, PhD, ISMPP CMPP™, and Chris Lawrence, PhD, ELS, MedThink SciCom. Graphics were developed by Julie Stuart, Making Ideas Visible, using feedback collected from attendees of the 16th Annual Meeting of ISMPP. We would like to acknowledge the contributions of Abbie Pound, Chris Winchester, and Catherine Skobe to the graphic capture project and video shared at the 16th Annual Meeting of ISMPP, as well as the use of their quotations in this article.