Author Archives: Isabelle Widmer

Medical Information – increase visibility by adding value

We are almost in the middle of the year so in today’s blog I am sharing my tips plus industry best practice examples and senior leader recommendations, to help you improve your day-to-day business practice including attaining better customer insights, adapting your launch planning approach, increasing the visibility of your Medical Information team and advancing your career.

Today’s blog topics:
– Beyond surveys – mastering the art of customer insights
– Launch preparation – harnessing data for market success
– Medical Information – how one team increased visibility by adding value in a new therapeutic area
– Managing your career – thoughts from senior leaders in the pharmaceutical industry

Beyond Surveys –  Mastering the Art of Customer Insights
Customer centric business practice depends on understanding customer needs. Surveys, interviews and capturing feedback during face-to-face visits can all provide insights, if the information is captured and shared. It is important that you pick the right tool for the job. If you do use surveys, make sure they are designed well. Vague questions lead to vague answers. Some tips:
General rules

  1. Select the right tool, to garner insights. Do you need interviews, a survey, another approach?
  2. Tailor questions for purpose, design your questions to meet your specific objectives to gain actionable information.

Regardless of how you engage with your customer, whether it is a conversation, a survey, market research or an advisory board, remember the following: 

  1. Value customers’ time by providing accurate time estimates and expressing gratitude for their participation.
  2. Avoid leading questions
  3. Prioritise open questions e.g., “What was your general experience? What did you like?” over closed questions e.g., “Were you happy with our service?”
  4. Be realistic about how many questions you can fit into a short time slot for conversations/interviews and for electronic surveys with open text fields make sure you don’t limit the number of characters. It’s hard to provide a response when limited by field size.
  5. Permission for follow-up, ask customers if you may contact them for additional information and insights.
  6. Leverage electronic communication, embed surveys into communications that contains the content the customer requested, this will increase participation and reduce the volume of emails your customers receive from you. 

One benefit of dispensing with electronic surveys altogether was highlighted by a participant at the open microphone session at last year’s DIA meeting. She shared, that the Medical Information team phones customers back to find out how happy they were with the information they received. She explained the rationale for this approach by saying “we already know customers are very happy with the service, and it was hard to learn anything new that will help us improve our content by using surveys, so we started to engage with our customers differently by phoning them to see what they thought of the information they had received.” While the approach involves work, the benefits include differentiated insights into customer expectations and needs, a better understanding of what excellent looks like in scientific communication and the possibility to identify additional topics of interest. In addition, Medical Information team members feel more connected to their customers and learnings are discussed in team meetings.
Key takeaways: Customer interview and survey approaches are often standardised. For deeper insights you need to tailor your approach.

Launch Preparation – Harnessing Data for Market Success
Teams hoping to launch new products successfully must understand the competition, the healthcare system, appetite and access to innovation in potential target markets, HCP knowledge of the disease, treatment paradigms, diagnostic capabilities, and patient demographics and patient journeys in order to tackle pricing and market access considerations, launch timelines and launch sequencing. 
Where companies have pre-existing relationships with physicians and are already active in a therapeutic area and market, the situation is relatively straightforward. However, companies launching their first product or companies launching in a new therapeutic area, launching the first product of its kind, or the first treatment in an indication where there was previously no treatment, face a truly daunting task.
Fortunately, information is often available not only from external data sources but also from in-house databases and in-house teams. For example, most companies subscribe to databases that contain information on Key Opinion Leader allegiance, engagement with competitors, patient demographics etc. across all indications and therapeutic areas globally. Unfortunately, commercial and medical teams are often unaware of these data sources and data can be tricky to find especially for individuals who are new to the company.
Consequently, it is often hard to use resources creatively, beyond their original purpose. However, data is use-agnostic.  For example: a bottle can be used to store liquids, it can also serve as a rolling pin, a paperweight, the shards as wall tile decorations, candle holders etc.  Similarly, databases, are generally subscribed to for one purpose, but the information they contain, can be used to inform projects in many different disciplines across a company.
So how do you find the data you need?
First: Check with IT whether you have a data catalogue. Like other indexing systems, a data catalogue will tell you what data is available, what its provenance is, how it is classified and where it is stored. I am unaware of a company that has company-wide data-catalogues, so you may need to be creative. Summarise what data you are looking for and contact the IT leads of various likely departments.
Second: Identify in-house teams that are specialised in researching, synthesising and presenting scientific data, for example Medical Information teams are excellent at this, and see if you can engage with them to collate the information you need.
Third: If your company doesn’t have significant expertise in-house, potentially, engage with pharmaceutical industry experts who can help guide you to find different data in your company and outside
Fourth: Market research has its uses, but use with discretion
Fifth: When you have identified source data, engage with your IT team, or external tech experts to help you “digest it”
If you are interested in finding data, data islands and utilising the data in your company efficiently, consider joining me for a panel discussion at Connect in Pharma in Geneva on the 15h of June. I will be joined by Peter Shone, Chief Technical Officer at Iethico and Wolfgang Schwerdt, who is on a mission at the ICRC.

Key Takeaway: The data you need is likely available in your company if you know where to look. Talk to your IT team and if speed is of the essence, then engage an external expert to help you identify what you need and where to find it.

Medical Information – How One Team Increased Visibility by Adding Value in a New Therapeutic Area 
Medical information teams are product experts, engage with customers, and often support legacy products that typically generate significant sales with minimal investment.  In this scenario measuring an ROI, which isn’t typically calculated for Medical Information teams, could be attempted. Unfortunately, stakeholders, who support actively marketed products often don’t know exactly what Medical Information teams do. 
However, knowledge drives pharmaceutical companies, and Medical Information teams are well placed to provide the business with insights once they know which gaps, they are uniquely positioned to fill.
At last year’s DIA open microphone session, a participant shared how her team branched out from focusing only on working with external customers to provide value to in-house teams.

“There was a new clinical study it was a new therapeutic area. Nobody in the company had any experience in this area. So, the medical information team offered to do desk research as we are specialists in this area. We provided a lot of information for our market. We identified KOLs in the market who had experience in the field. Where Medical Affairs team colleagues had specific questions, we would do detailed research to provide support in this area by providing in depth review of the literature and all the databases. Then we summarised everything and provided it to our internal Medical Affairs stakeholders”
Key-takeaway: Think like an entrepreneur: Understand your strengths, understand what your stakeholders need, offer to help them fill the gaps.

Managing your Career – Thoughts from Senior Leaders in the Pharmaceutical Industry
In preparation for a panel discussion on women in pharma, which will take place on June 14th at Connect in Pharma in Geneva, I interviewed several senior leaders in pharmaceutical companies. What I learned is applicable to both men and women.
First, know your strengths, so you can find an environment that will be a good fit. Follow your inner compass and don’t take a path even if you think it might be great for your CV unless you will enjoy the job. We do our best work when we are in the right place.
Additional Guidelines for career planning:

  • There are times to accelerate and times to maintain the status quo. For example, if you are a young parent, you are currently having health issues, or you have other things that are stretching you, it may be wise to sit out a promotion.
  • Name inappropriate behaviour immediately. If there is no change, or there is a system-wide tolerance of abuse, leave.
  • Seek out mentors early in your career.
  • Don’t try to do everything yourself, learn how to delegate and to accept that things may not be done how you would have done them.
  • Work in teams and on projects you are passionate about. If you chose an interim job where this doesn’t hold true, then use it as a steppingstone to where you are going.
  • Choose your battles wisely.

Key takeaways: It is your career, make sure you are driving the bus and avail yourself of any guidance available to you.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. 

If you would like to discuss a project you are facing from identifying your goals, developing your strategy or mobilising your organisation to deliver, or you want to discover your career trajectory, I am always happy to have an informal, introductory chat to see if I, or someone in my network, can help.

Best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo: Engaged
Isabelle Widmer, Basel 

Uncertain times and employee mental health

I hope you are having a wonderful year. 2023 appears to be a year of change. I cannot remember receiving this many company/role change notifications in any other year. This combined with many conversations I have had in recent weeks with employees regarding their work and mental health, plus an imminent new French law on social media, sparked my thinking for today.

Today’s blog topics:

– Employee mental health in uncertain times
– Quiet quitting or conscious disengagement?
– Leadership lessons from being stuck in an elevator
– New social media regulations – why industry provided scientific information has a bright future

Employee Mental Health in Uncertain Times

Most pharma company employees I have met recently mention burnout in the course of our conversations. This saddens me, but also, as a physician, a coach and someone who is convinced that humans are a company’s most important resource it concerns me. It is a big topic and one that is top of mind for many, so today I wanted to share some thoughts. Many environmental factors can impact employee mental health, some of the more frequent topics mentioned in conversation are listed below:

  1. A feeling of instability and lack of control
  2. A working environment that is not conducive to being productive including for example days where back-to-back meetings are the norm not the exception
  3. Constantly working at maximum capacity but regularly having tasks added on top
  4. The feeling that one is never on top of tasks
  5. Taking on extra work because it needs doing but everyone else in the team is already overwhelmed

We are in a time of constant upheaval. A recent pandemic, an energy crisis, the cost of living crisis and a general feeling of instability, coupled with unstable work environments are putting employees under huge pressure.

As companies go through yet another transformation leading to new job descriptions and reporting structures, while letting people go, and expecting employees to figure out new ways of working on top of performing in very demanding jobs, the risk of burnout for employees becomes very real.

Unfortunately, burnout symptoms manifest slowly over time, so that at risk individuals often don’t realise what is happening until it is too late. In addition, individuals, who are suffering from a burnout, find it hard to identify that they need support and hard to say what type of support they need.

So what can you do? In the current environment it’s crucial that you monitor yourself, listen to warning messages from your friends and family, and monitor your team for signs of a struggle, and that you address any suspicions you have sensitively. A resource, that might come in handy to help you to get an objective perspective is an anonymous questionnaire by the British Medical Association, developed for doctors, but which will work for other professionals too, which you can access here. There is also an HBR article on suicide prevention in employees, which may be interesting here.

If you feel your health is at risk, please consider seeing a health care professional. If you feel healthy, yet you are continuously stretched but find yourself still saying yes to additional projects, and you would like to change your approach, an executive coach can help you with this. I am happy to discuss informally whether I can help, or to provide a referral to a trusted colleague of mine.

Key takeaways: 1) Be aware: many employees are at risk of burnout as they navigate high pressure jobs in constantly changing environments. Be aware for yourself and others and if you suspect you or a teammate is heading into a burnout offer/seek help. 2) Identify and address the root cause: If you find yourself chronically taking on more work than you can manage, “because somebody has to do it,” or working nights/weekends, while feeling overworked, it is worth identifying your motivating behaviours and potentially finding a better way to live.

Quiet Quitting or Conscious Disengagement?

I believe the following to be true:

  • Most people want to do a good job
  • When doing a good job appears impossible due to factors outside an individual’s control, most people will try to remedy the situation by speaking with their managers and team members
  • If a situation seems irremediable two options remain 1) leave 2) stay and perform core tasks well

Quiet quitting, I believe, typically follows extended periods of high engagement trying to solve issues or an experience leading to employee disillusionment.

A friend of mine told me once, after working for a company for 17 years: “I loved this company. We were a family. I stayed late, worked weekends and nights, when necessary. I was willing to do anything because I was a part of something bigger. However, in the past years, there is a disconnect between values and senior leader behaviours, I feel like a commodity, and friends of mine have been let go, and not treated with respect. So, while I won’t leave, I will no longer put my heart and soul into my job.”

Thirteen years later my friend still works for the same company.

Key takeaway: If a team member, who was initially motivated, is suddenly disengaged, it may be a symptom of a systemic issue. Before criticising the individual, it is worth asking yourself what may be going on in the system.

Leadership Lessons from Being Stuck in an Elevator

I read a fantastic newsletter by Gene Moran in which he described getting stuck in an elevator at a conference for 40 minutes. The elevator was full. Nobody panicked. However, people were anxious, some inebriated, and many solutions were offered. Imagining the situation: an enclosed space full of strangers, no mobile phone reception, no timeline on a rescue and thanks to the lights and the packed bodies a rapid rise in temperature. I still feel physical discomfort today as I write this. In attempt to effect rescue, one person risked electrocution by unscrewing the live electrical panel in the elevator. Finally, the firefighters arrived and initiated a rescue protocol.

Key takeaways: When in crisis 1) Action may feel better than inertia but it could get you electrocuted 2) If your team is in a crisis situation don’t expect rational behaviour 3) Bring in professionals to support you, they have done it before 4) Sometimes active read “conscious” inactivity is the best thing you can do

Gene’s description was hilarious, you can read it here.

New Social Media Regulations – Why Industry Provided Scientific Information has a Bright Future

When the internet was first available, I loved it. In the meantime, I am bombarded with advertising. Blogs are written in a standard way, anyone can post anything, with no quality control whatsoever, and I find myself bored by a sea of sameness and frequently frustrated.

Consequently, I have turned back to an enduring love: books. Halfway through Richard Attenborough’s “Life on earth” I am reminded of the joy of reading work that has not only been meticulously researched, but that is comprehensive, professionally written and presented by an expert. I suspect that as the internet evolves into a library of vapid content, and separating what has value from what does not becomes ever more time-consuming, that expert authored content will experience a renaissance. At some point the desire for speed will be tempered with the desire for accuracy and quality.

In addition, inaccurate information can be and has been life and livelihood threatening. Governments are acting. French newspaper le Figaro (article) recently reported that France is taking action to regulate social media influencer content, especially in areas that pose significant risk to unwary consumers, such as the promotion of products and services in the following areas: cryptocurrencies, tobacco, alcohol, health care, gambling.

I am confident that as the internet and content becomes more regulated and as people tire of trying to sift through information, trusted resources will gain value again including content that is provided by the pharmaceutical industry on topics such as disease awareness or product information.

Key takeaways: Unregulated social media content in the medical space poses risks to the general public especially in the healthcare space. Governments are starting to regulate this content. In addition, as finding accurate content and navigating pop-ups and advertising becomes ever more cumbersome, content from trusted and regulated sources will gain value.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

If you are struggling with your job, not sure where to go from here, want to develop further in your career, or want to look at repeat patterns in your daily work and private life, that you suspect may be blocking you from reaching your full potential and you would like to discuss how executive coaching could help, please contact me for a confidential and informal chat.

Best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Marija Zaric on Unsplash

Celebrating 10 Years as a Consultant

LinkedIn tells me it is my ten-year anniversary. Absent the messages congratulating me, I wouldn’t have known.

I started working as a consultant in 2013 and now, suddenly, it is 2023! I am proud and grateful. I am excited about the next decade. Thank you for being a part of this journey, as a friend, colleague, client, partner and reader!

Topics for today’s blog are:

– Celebrating 10 Years as a consultant: reflections on a decade of success
– How to write and submit an abstract in 10 minutes or less
– How to select a Medical Information system
– The dependency on a good medical history limits the usefulness of AI as a diagnostic tool in certain settings

Celebrating 10 Years as a Consultant: Reflections on a Decade of Success

I find it hard to believe that I have been consulting for 10 years. It’s a milestone that “snuck” up on me. I am incredibly proud, which is an unusual feeling for me and grateful to so many who helped me become successful.

Without the people who supported me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. My family has been incredibly supportive, especially my father, who sadly passed away last August. I miss him for so many reasons. I had some great mentors including Sharon Leighton, Talie Wood and Traugott Grieder, who shared knowledge, experience and encouragement with me.

The gratitude from my clients upon the completion of projects combined with the joy of performing interesting work that is never repetitive, confirms every day that I am finally in the right place.

In the past decade I have supported pharmaceutical companies from biotech startups to Top 5 pharma companies. I have worked with consultancies, solution providers, university spin-offs and universities. I have worked on re-organisations, IT systems, KOL engagement, medical information, biosimilar and data analytics projects. I have been involved in projects on clinical trial recruitment strategies, omni channel customer engagement, code compliance and market access. The breadth of projects, companies and teams has been incredibly enriching.

In addition, I trained as an executive coach with the Tavistock Institute, joined Eightwell, a network of leadership advisors and the International Society of the Psychoanalytic study of organisations (ISPSO), and became a trustee for telemedicine charity The Virtual Doctors.

I have done more than I dreamed, and I am very excited about the next decade.

As the need for expert pharmaceutical industry consultants grows, I have expanded my practice to include senior pharmaceutical industry expert associates with complimentary backgrounds to support on projects and to better meet evolving client needs.

Key takeaways: I love what I do, I’m happy to support you on any project you need help on. If you are interested in discussing a project with me please reach out for an informal chat to see how I can help.

How to Write and Submit an Abstract in 10 Minutes or Less

The deadline for abstract submission to the DIA Medical Information and Communications meeting is April 19th. I have received feedback from many that they cannot make the deadline. Unfortunately, we cannot move it, as we need time to select abstracts, design the agenda, publish the information and collect various bits and pieces. However, we do want to hear your case studies, so I have come up with a way for you to submit in under 10 minutes:

  • If you have one minute: submit a descriptive title e.g. “Selecting and Implementing a Medical Information model at a small biotech company – key insights and learnings”
  • If you have three minutes: use ChatGPT to give you permutations on the above title and select one that you like better, for example this: “Revolutionizing Medical Information Management: Key Insights and Lessons Learned from Implementing a New Model at a Small Biotech Company”
  • If you have five minutes: add in some context: “Revolutionizing Medical Information Management: Key Insights and Lessons Learned from Implementing a New Model at a Small Biotech Company” – presentation covers the following 1) small biotech company working in orphan diseases 2) product marketed in EU and the US 3) Medical Information model implemented globally 4) global medical information team implemented responsible for content generation, governance and IT system management supported by local teams in key markets 5) in addition vendor support for out of office 6) medical information system implementation 7) budget challenges to implement model, as well as headcount challenges 8) we will discuss all the above and share how and why we picked our model, what the key challenges were and how to overcome them
  • If you have ten minutes: You can use ChatGPT to write an abstract. To continue with my example: 1) Open ChatGPT. 2) Type: write a short abstract for a conference presentation with the title “Revolutionizing Medical Information Management: Key Insights and Lessons Learned from Implementing a New Model at a Small Biotech Company”, taking into account the following content 3) Copy paste the content in teal (from above) into the chat field behind your instructions 4) watch as ChatGPT writes an abstract in under 30 seconds 5) Review and edit the conference abstract which you can find, unedited, below with the title conference abstract example:

Conference Abstract Example
Revolutionizing Medical Information Management: Key Insights and Lessons Learned from Implementing a New Model at a Small Biotech Companies

In the fast-paced and highly regulated world of biotech, medical information management is crucial for ensuring the safety and efficacy of products marketed in key markets such as the US and EU. For a small biotech company working in orphan diseases, the task of implementing a new Medical Information model was a significant challenge that required careful consideration and planning. In this presentation, we will share our experience of implementing a new Medical Information model globally, covering the key insights and lessons learned from this process. Our model involved establishing a global medical information team responsible for content generation, governance, and IT system management, supported by local teams in key markets. In addition, we worked with a vendor to provide support for out of office hours. We will discuss the challenges we faced, including the implementation of the medical information system and budget constraints, as well as the headcount challenges we encountered. Our talk will provide insights into how we overcame these challenges and the reasons behind the model we ultimately chose. Attendees will learn about the key considerations for selecting a Medical Information model, including the importance of global coverage, vendor support, and IT system implementation. We will also discuss how to manage budget constraints and headcount challenges while ensuring the model’s success. Overall, this presentation will provide valuable insights and best practices for small biotech companies looking to revolutionize their Medical Information management, enabling them to improve their product safety and efficacy in key markets.

So, while we need to stick to the 19th of April deadline, you now have various ways to speed up your performance, either enhanced by ChatGPT or simply by submitting a quick title, of your own choosing, with or without bullet points, to us.

Key takeaways: We really want to read your submissions and have you present at the meeting. It may be faster to submit than you thought.

How to Select a Medical Information System

Choosing the right Medical Information system can be a daunting task as it is a long-term commitment with big budget implications. Factors to consider during the selection process include your business model, your business needs, the size of your organisation, your IT infrastructure, customer engagement strategies and the resources you will have at your disposal to implement. Beyond the IT system itself, you will need to think about the licensing model, product support, system updates and data hosting. Ideally, at the end of the process you will have a system that is fit for purpose and scalable, that can integrate with systems you already have in house and that has data analytics capabilities. While there are many things you need to consider, the two most important are these 1) Capture and prioritise your stakeholder needs, while understanding how these are likely to evolve with time and what this means for system selection 2) Vet the systems on the market and see how they and the solution provider who owns the system can meet current and evolve to meet future stakeholder needs,

If you have recently implemented a new system, are in the process of selecting one, or are willing to talk to me about how your current system is doing, I would love to hear about your experience. Please drop me a line.

Key takeaway: it’s not easy to implement Medical Information systems well, but if you know what your stakeholders need, you are well on the way.

The Dependency on a Good Medical History Limits the Usefulness of AI as a Diagnostic Tool in Certain Settings

I have spent many hours in hospital in the past months with my mother. It has been illuminating on many fronts. It has also led me to think about the use of AI in healthcare. There are many issues in the healthcare system: documentation, process flows, communication etc., where I believe that AI could help. However, based on my last weeks, I think the areas where AI can deliver most benefits, lie outside the interface doctor/patient. This is because making a diagnosis is both an art and a science, as I was recently reminded. Many authors are convinced that AI will help expedite reaching a diagnosis.

The doctors asked questions, my mother answered them to the best of her ability, but she unwittingly omitted critical details. The doctor couldn’t know what was missing and didn’t think to ask for further information. A good doctor, who wasn’t exhausted, however, might have taken a more complete history and helped my mother identify the critical pieces of the puzzle.

It brought home to me again that any tool is only as good as the data you feed it and of course the data it was trained on. AI absolutely has it’s uses in diagnostics, in situations such as assessing an EKG for example, it’s easy to see that an AI could outperform a human. However, in a situation where data needs integrating from a clinical examination, lab data and depends on someone gathering a solid patient history, I think a good doctor will have the edge for quite a while yet. provided of course that you can find one.

Key takeaway: humans are not obsolete in the provision of healthcare just yet.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

If you are struggling with your job, not sure where to go from here, want to develop further in your career, or want to look at repeat patterns in your daily work and private life, that you suspect may be blocking you from reaching your full potential and you would like to discuss how executive coaching could help, please contact me for a confidential and informal chat.

Best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Think Before You Like: Why Context Matters in Health News

Another fortnight, so many new topics! On April 1st a friend sent me a text stating that April fools day is the one day of the year where we read content online or in the newspapers and question its veracity.

This resonated with me and so today’s blog focuses on content, content sharing, and content checking. I have checked my facts, so hopefully you will not find any errors.

Topics for today’s blog are:

– Think before you like: Why context matters in health news
– Abstract submissions to the Medical Information and Communications meeting
– How I use ChatGPT and why it is not a magic bullet
– What ChatGPT thought of my abstract on digital islands

Think Before you like: Why Context Matters in Health News

A LinkedIn post from a week ago reported:

  • That the UK government will introduce a legal requirement to make all clinical trial results public within 12 months of trial completion
  • That companies in breach of the law will be refused permission to start new trials

The writer went on to say “The UK law sets a new global benchmark for transparency in medical research. Comparable disclosure laws in the European Union and the United States only cover some types of trials, and so far remain unenforced.” And concluded “This is a major victory for patients in the UK and sets a new global gold standard for transparency”.

Comments ranged from those commending the UK government, those saying that it’s about time too, to those questioning how enforcement might look. I added a comment that European Medicines Agency (EMA) has substantially comparable guidance in place (as does the US), and an observation from the UK Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) website “Since January 2021 the MHRA no longer has access to the EudraCT database and therefore there was a danger that UK clinical trials would not appear in a public register, as trial sponsors themselves cannot directly publish their trials in the EU Register”

While the post is not incorrect, the context I have added in would help readers understand that the UK law is in fact substantially in line with global clinical trial disclosure standards from the EMA and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The key difference between the UK law and EMA and FDA regulations is, as best I can tell, that companies in breach of the law, won’t be allowed to initiate new trials. This is laudable but it remains to be seen how the UK will enforce the law. However, if that is the only difference, then the conclusion “This …. sets a new global gold standard for transparency” doesn’t seem defensible.

The reason I am sharing these thoughts today is that one commentator wrote, I paraphrase “Does it matter that what the UK is doing is not truly novel and that this post is perhaps mainly a PR activity? After all the patients that we serve are the biggest losers in all of this.”

After some reflection, my answer is yes it does matter. The post I’m mentioning above was reposted 164 times and liked by 1616 people. Estimating a conservative 300 connections per person the content reached between 50 000 (reposts) to 500 000 (likes) people.

I found the post because my connections liked it. My first thought was “clinical trials are not well regulated, which puts patients at risk” but I knew that this was incorrect, and the global gold standard comment made me think, I looked up the context, and I realised that the post by itself is, while not inaccurate, beyond the last statement, is potentially misleading. For readers who are not involved in the pharmaceutical industry, their conclusion might just remain what my initial conclusion was: “clinical trials are not well regulated, which puts patients at risk”

This can ultimately impact people’s willingness to participate in research, and erode trust in trial sites, sponsors and the pharmaceutical industry and so ultimately harm patients, instead of helping, So, I think, yes context and fair balanced writing matters.

Key takeaways: Think before you like, or repost. Is the information comprehensive? Does the article sound balanced? Is the source a reputable journal like Nature, or HBR, or is it someone’s opinion. If the latter, is the content polarising or does it seem fair and balanced. If in doubt consider fact checking or looking for references.

N.B. for interested readers I am happy to share the link to the original post.

Abstract submissions to the Medical Information and Communications meeting

We recently had the call for abstracts for the Medical Information and Communications meeting, which will be held in Brussels 27th to 29th September. Register here.

Following on from my previous article on the importance of fair balanced content and context I thought it might be useful to share some thoughts on abstract writing.

You can pick any topic. Basically, anything you find interesting in the Medical Information or associated space could be of interest to the audience. You can write your abstract in whatever form you would like. However, the classic abstract format is as follows and I generally find it very useful. 1) Background – share why the project is important 2) Materials and Methods – what did you do, why, how, who was engaged 3) Results – what were the outcomes 4) Conclusions.

When submitting an abstract to the programme committee the more information you provide the easier it will be for us to assess. Timelines are as follows: submit poster and presentation abstracts by the 19th of April. I look forward to reading your submission.

Key takeaway: if you think it is interesting, we will likely think so too! If you are in doubt contact any member of the programme committee, including myself, we are happy to give guidance. And last but not least don’t miss the deadline.

How I use ChatGPT and why it is not a Magic Bullet

One of the key skills in research, interviewing, querying datasets and using tools like ChatGPT or TripAdvisor is the ability to ask the right question and know enough about the subject at hand to be able to put the answers into context.

Here are some ways I have used ChatGPT:

  • Quality control: When I have reservations on something I have found online I may put it into ChatGPT to see if I can validate the content/substantiate my qualms with sources, generally after I have done my own research already. In this situation, it has become very apparent that while the tool is useful, it has limits, and you need to know the subject area very well yourself, so that you can put the data retrieved into context and know where to dig further.
  • As a title generator: I provide the key words, specify the type of content I need a title for, abstracts, panel discussions, books etc., and the maximum length for the title and see what ChatGPT produces.
  • As a test reviewer for an abstract I was submitting, which I will share.
  • To generate title suggestions for a 15-minute slide presentation outlining key data on one of the biggest Swiss newspapers as a test on how a student of my acquaintance might use it.
  • When looking for regulations and guideline texts and computer error fixes.

I don’t use the text as is but as an inspiration or sparring partner as I develop ideas and when I use it always ask it to provide links to the sources used.

Key takeaway: ChatGPT is not the great equaliser I initially imagined. It’s extremely useful, but only if you know your subject well, and you know how to research, do quality control and check the data, the output you get will reflect any deficiencies you have. If you are creative, I suspect you can use it to generate innovative content, in much the same way that a loom can help you make a beautiful tapestry but only if you are able to provide the image yourself. It is truly a useful tool, but it’s not the magic bullet it’s been hailed as, I don’t believe.

What ChatGPT Thought of my Abstract on Digital Islands

As shared in my last blog, I will be hosting a panel at Connect in Pharma in June in Geneva. We will discuss among other things, digital islands and how to overcome them. After much deliberation, the title I decided on was “Marooned on a digital island in a sea of data?”

Having written the abstract, I sent it over to a friend for comment. He sent me ChatGPT’s feedback back instead.

Here it is:

As an AI language model, I think the abstract sounds like an interesting and timely topic for a panel discussion. The title “Marooned on a digital island in a sea of data?” is catchy and thought-provoking, and the description raises important issues about the challenges of managing data in today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape.

The panellists, Dr med. Isabelle C. Widmer and Peter Shone, bring different perspectives and expertise to the discussion with their backgrounds in elytra GmbH and iEthico, respectively.

The abstract also outlines some of the common problems that companies face with data management and highlights the steps they are taking to address them. The focus on implementing a company-wide data management strategy is particularly relevant as it emphasizes the need for a holistic approach to managing data.

The inclusion of AI as a possible solution to data management challenges is also noteworthy, and the panellists’ exploration of the promise and limitations of AI should provide valuable insights for the audience.

Overall, the abstract sets a clear agenda for the panel discussion and promises to provide actionable insights for attendees.

My friend added: As a humble human being I think your abstract is good as well.

Key takeaway: ChatGPT wrote a pleasing text based on my abstract. However, the resulting text feels as though the words I used in my abstract have merely been jumbled and structured into new sentences that read differently but mean the same thing. As said above, ChatGPT is great at filler text.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

If you are struggling with your job, not sure where to go from here, want to develop further in your career, or want to look at repeat patterns in your daily work and private life, that you suspect may be blocking you from reaching your full potential and you would like to discuss how executive coaching could help, please contact me for a confidential and informal chat.

Best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

University Hospital Basel
Photo by Isabelle Widmer

What to do if you are marooned on a digital island in a sea of data

Inspiration for my blog comes from many sources. Stories I am told, new material I have come across, training courses, current affairs or things that I am suddenly fascinated by. Today’s topics cover life, the universe and everything, to quote Douglas Adams.

I share my thoughts on what to do to love your job, data management, perception and reality and managing reality through regulations and codes.

Topics for today’s blog are:

– Secrets to being happy in your job without moving to an island
– What to do if you are marooned on a digital island in a sea of data
– Healthcare disparity as an example of how we see the world
– When medical associations write codes

Secrets to Being Happy in your job Without Moving to an Island

A senior pharma company executive recently told me how much she loves what she does. I was impressed. She said “I love my job, I have managed people, but I don’t enjoy it much. I am experienced. I know exactly what I am good at, what I enjoy doing, and where I can add value. Any promotion I am offered that takes me away from my core interests and pleasures, is a promotion I will turn down. I am paid well to do a job I like to do, how lucky am I?”

This individual has been working for many years. It has taken her time and experience in various roles as well as a lot of self-reflection and the courage to say no to the wrong opportunities to end up in a place where she is very happy. For most employees it takes a while to get to the right place. Your degree is the foundation, the rest is finding the right ecosystem. I have written about how to do this in two recent newsletters. You can find the content here and here.

However, even when you know what you want, don’t expect plain sailing. The broader your skill set and the better you are at what you do, the more opportunities you will be offered. A colleague shared that he is often approached by individuals who have great suggestions for projects he can get involved in. He also is able to politely decline. The lesson here: once you know what you want, act in alignment with your goals. By all means enjoy being courted, but know when to say no, or perhaps, not now. Don’t be seduced by opportunities for the wrong reasons: status, money, prestige, team leadership, if you know beforehand that you don’t want the job. Likewise, if you are not enjoying what you do, act, instead of hoping it will get better at some point.

Key takeaways: self-knowledge and self-awareness are the foundation upon which satisfying careers are built. Work on your professional skills by all means, but don’t neglect personal development.

What to do if you are Marooned on a Digital Island in a sea of Data

A comprehensive data management strategy provides a competitive advantage in today’s rapidly changing business environment. As the world becomes increasingly digital, the pace of business and the volume of data that is created, consumed, and stored is growing exponentially. Unfortunately, data management has not kept pace, and digital solutions have been, and often still are, developed in silos, leading to a disconnect between systems, data and data analytics. Data is marooned on «digital islands». Disparate working practices and a lack of standards and standardisation further compound the problem.

Most companies face and are working on these three topics:

  • How to gain insights from the terabytes of data held in disconnected systems and whether it is worth it
  • When, where and if to use AI
  • And how to design and implement a company wide data management strategy

Supporting teams to identify a data management strategy that is fit for purpose is something that makes me happy. Some considerations:

  • What are the key insights you need to support the business now and in the future?
  • What type of data will you need to have to answer your questions?
  • What data do you already have and where is it stored? What is missing?
  • What is the source of the data you need, will that potentially change as markets/the business evolves?
  • What are the technology and competency requirements? Never start this exercise with the technology.
  • How will you approach data governance and standardise working practice?

I will be taking part in and running a panel on data husbandry, digital islands, the promises and challenges of AI and what we can learn from other industries in June 2023 at a Connect in Pharma event. I will be joined by Peter Shone, Chief Technology Officer at iEthico, who I admire enormously for his knowledge across time, space and different industries of all things data related. You can register for the event here.

Key takeaways: 1) If you struggle with this, you are not alone 2) In an environment where you are under pressure to do more with less, being able to get data insights may give you the competitive edge you are looking for 3) the sooner you get a handle on it the better 4) Before you dive in make sure you have asked the right questions and documented the answers.

Healthcare Disparity as an Example of how we see the World

A week ago, I had a bicycle accident. I called my doctor the next day, had an appointment an hour later, and the confirmation that my wrist was not broken within 24 hours of the event. One weekend my mother fell. I took her to AE. We waited for four hours in the AE of the hospital that is five minutes from her house for a CAT scan, as well as the results of the X-ray confirming that she had broken her leg. She was admitted to hospital immediately. Her operation was scheduled as soon as possible based on her clinical status. At no point was there a lack of resources or a bottleneck that impacted her access to tailored health care.

In contrast a friend’s dad in the UK needed medical support. The GP said, “we don’t do house calls, call the community nurse”. The community nurse said, “I cannot come unless I have a referral from the GP”. In the end the family called the ambulance. The ambulance arrived thirteen hours after the call. My friend’s father was then in the ambulance in a holding pattern for seven hours in the parking lot of AE, alongside twelve other ambulances, as AE was full and the health system is hopelessly overwhelmed.

Key takeaway: Our frame of reference and what we consider acceptable is strongly influenced by the society we operate in and what is “normal” where we are. This is true for any activity in our life. While working across cultures it’s therefore worth asking for underlying beliefs that influence decisions or viewpoints, you might be surprised, and it will definitely make things easier.

When Medical Associations Write Codes

Pharma companies employees are trained to adhere to the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) codes, regulatory authority guidance documents and to be GxP compliant. Beyond IFPMA codes, country laws and regulatory authority guidelines, the industry also has internal Standard Operating Procedures. I was intrigued when I recently came across a code of conduct for corporate sponsors penned by the European Board for Accreditation in Hematology (EBAH), headquarters are based in the Netherlands.

The introduction to the code of conduct states “The agreement will define a code of conduct which will govern the commercial entities’ sponsorship of CME activities organized by (representatives of) academic and scientific organizations”. The goal of the code is to ensure that activities are non-promotional. Unfortunately, there is no date on the document, no version, nor information on validity of the document, so I don’t know how old it is. The EBAH has other guidelines on their website too. This is the first time I have come across a Code of Conduct addressing the interaction between physicians and the industry that has been penned by a body representing physicians. I’d love to hear from anyone who is aware of any other similar codes.

Key takeaway: the landscape governing interactions with healthcare professionals is continually evolving as witnessed by the fact that medical associations now write Codes outlining best practice when medical association members and the pharmaceutical industry engage for CME activities.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

If you are struggling with your job, not sure where to go from here, want to develop further in your career, or want to look at repeat patterns in your daily work and private life, that you suspect may be blocking you from reaching your full potential and you would like to discuss how executive coaching could help, please contact me for a confidential and informal chat.

Best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Love your job without moving to an island
Photo by Isabelle Widmer

Maximise Medical Affairs Value Creation, CED and Medical Affairs accreditation

A recent conversation with a student on how he is using ChatGPT to write his thesis made me reflect that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, that education is only a part of what we bring to our professional lives, and that it’s important to remember that. It also made me think about the value of education, the importance of continuing education, and of something a tutor once said to a family member regarding the correlation between good university grades and career success. So, today’s blog talks about continuing education and how to select a course that suits your needs, why a good education is not enough to ensure career success and what you can do to increase your chances, and lastly I issue an invitation to present your work a the EU DIA medical information and communication meeting in September.

Topics for today’s blog are:

– Maximising Medical Affairs value creation
– Continuing education – or do you need to be board certified in Medical Affairs?
– Invest in yourself – or why a good education is not enough and what to do about it
– Call for abstracts DIA Medical Information Conference September 2023

Maximising Medical Affairs Value Creation

Since I joined the industry the role of Medical Affairs has come of age. Historically perceived to be a support function for commercial, Medical Affairs teams are now recognised to be critical partners for all aspects of a product’s lifecycle. Unfortunately, as companies evolve, the number of potential stakeholders keeps increasing and this, combined with the fact that workloads are also increasing, means it’s important to review your stakeholder engagement regularly and to have a game plan. In 2016 I surveyed Medical Affairs professionals on how they engage with other teams in their organisation and whether these meetings are structured or ad hoc. Most respondents said yes they do engage with other teams, but that these meetings are, for the most part, ad hoc based on need. Unfortunately, however, often opportunities are identified serendipitously, and this is most likely to happen if you have regular conversations on topics of common interest.

In order to demonstrate value to and benefit from the knowledge of other stakeholder groups in your organisation I’d suggest listing your key stakeholders and reviewing how you engage with them. If you have never worked with a certain group, consider setting up a meeting. And for key stakeholders it’s worth having cross-functional regular meetings set up. Most large organisations do this as a matter of course. I have listed some typical stakeholder groups below, as a starting point. You could review the stakeholders listed below, add in any that are missing from your perspective, then identify who it makes sense to engage with, who in your team is best placed to have the conversation, and then set up a short meeting to introduce yourself and take it from there.

Internal Stakeholders:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Strategy Teams
  • Market Access
  • Regulatory Affairs
  • Quality
  • Compliance
  • PV
  • Digital Communication both Corporate and Medical
  • Clinical Development
  • R&D
  • Finance
  • Human Resources

External Stakeholders

  • Payers
  • HCPs
  • KOLs
  • Customers
  • Regulatory authorities
  • MOH/Governments
  • NGOs
  • Charities
  • Patient associations
  • External advocates – social leaders

Key takeaways for communicating value and for efficient collaboration: Regular exchange with key stakeholders within and outside your organisation can help you identify opportunities you risk missing if you only have ad hoc meetings.

Continuing Education – or do you need to be Board Certified in Medical Affairs?

Continuing education is important. However, time is limited, and there are more and more offerings targeted at Medical Affairs professionals. While continuing education is critical, picking the right course for your needs is paramount. I recommend a rigorous comparison of the available courses, the course curricula and the faculty. I have added a checklist below. In addition, I suggest you interview past participants, to find out whether the courses added value, as well as experts in your fields of interest. These conversations will help you identify what training will help you “break into” the fields of your choice especially if you are new to the industry or looking to change jobs within the industry.

Depending on your background and interests there are many courses you can take. Many specialist courses are available for free online. Free courses I have taken include bioethics, personalised medicine, computer programming as well as programme management and data analytics and visualisation. These courses are available from renowned universities taught by university lecturers and without exception they have been of exceptional quality.

For a university affiliated very comprehensive overview of Pharmaceutical Medicine, I’d recommend looking at the European Centre of Pharmaceutical Medicine (ECPM) Diploma Course. The course is targeted to individuals, who already have experience in the industry, it takes a year, comprises 6 modules and concludes with an assortment of exams. As a past Programme Director of the course I know it very well. The curriculum is broad and covers drug development and the business environment, non-clinical to first in human, clinical studies, safety data evaluation and biostatistics, global registration and approval processes as well as product development, the healthcare marketplace and marketing. The course is taught by global industry experts from the leading pharmaceutical companies and the modules are supplemented with extra courses on topics that are in focus in the industry. An added bonus is that as the ECPM is university affiliated you graduate with a university degree: a Certificate or Diploma of Advanced Studies in Pharmaceutical Medicine up to a Master of Advanced Studies in Medicines Development.

For courses focused on specialist areas such as Regulatory Affairs, Medical Information, Compliance etc. the Drug Information Association, CEL for pharma, the Medical Affairs society and others provide many courses of different duration and intensity, both on and offline, as do individual solution providers. In addition, some regulatory authorities also offer teaching materials, for example the FDA website provides videos and training material on compliance topics. There is a lot of information available if you know where to look.

This brings me to the Board Certification in Medical Affairs. The course covers many topics in 40 hours, it appears to be fast-paced, self-taught and all online, and US focused, which is apparent from the accreditation, based on what I could glean from the website. The final test is also online. According to a friend who recently took the course and who has many years of experience in the industry it would provide most value for those who are new to the industry, but is less likely to provide much value add if you already have significant industry experience. So do you need to be board certified in Medical Affairs to be successful? I would say definitely not, especially not ex-US, however for newcomers to the industry it might prove useful as a starting point.

Some things to consider when identifying the right course for you:

  • Are you a newcomer to the industry or an industry professional?
  • Are you clear on your goals for taking the course – what will change if you take it?
  • If you are new to the industry do you know enough to commit to a full course in a single area?
    • If you do not, consider speaking to an expert in the industry first to identify where your interests and talents might fit best
  • What are your long-term career goals?
  • What courses are available to you through your university, free resources your employer?
  • What is your learning style, on-line offline or a mix?
  • Is the course interactive, do you have access to teachers, other students etc.
  • Are you looking to change jobs or break into a new area?
  • For the courses you review – look at the faculty and compare their credentials, are they industry experts or university lecturers, or both. Ask to experience a couple of lectures or review some of the materials to get a feel for the quality of a course
  • Ask how often materials are updated, how they are reviewed and approved and kept current
  • Decide whether you need a university accredited degree or whether another certificate is enough
  • Review course duration, cost, relative cost and renewal costs

If you are looking to change jobs or enter into the industry, taking courses where you engage with others, ideally face to face, and engage with a senior teaching faculty, will help you learn more about the industry and give you access to experts in the field, which will be helpful when planning your future.

Key learning: There are many courses available, many are free, and I’d recommend the same care you’d use when picking a course as when buying a horse. Look it over carefully and be wary of marketing “blurb”.

Invest in Yourself – or why a good Education is not Enough and what to do about it

A family member went to Oxford University in the UK. His tutor said to him and his peers “many of you have brilliant grades, but I have met many students over the years, and I have noticed that success cannot be predicted by grades. In fact, I have seen many students who were academically unexceptional excel in their later careers”. We are taught to invest in our education and continued education. However, success cannot be predicted by good university degrees alone. Being interested, curious and educated are naturally important foundations for a career, however, that is all they are, a foundation. Having great connections also helps. However, what is most important is our ability to engage with others. If you are able to communicate efficiently, collaborate effectively and to gracefully navigate what a friend calls “corporate shenanigans” you are likely to go far.

How you interact, engage and collaborate with others is, I’d argue, more critical for career success than your university grades. What you have to say is important, but if you have ever watched a speaker and been distracted by his hand-movements, head movements or delivery, you will realise that what we think of others is based both on verbal and non-verbal communication. In fact, most communication is non-verbal. Consequently, a great education is important, continuing education is also critical, but they are not enough.

An aunt used to tell me “your best tools are your hands”. I would say “you are your best tool”. The more time you invest in understanding yourself and in being aware of the conditions that need to be met for you to be most effective, the happier you will be in your professional and personal life. Often individuals perceive obstacles in their paths that they have unwittingly generated themselves but that they feel powerless to remove. The good news is that as long as we are alive things can be changed, obstacles removed, perceptions changed, filters discarded, it may take time and effort, but the outcome is worth it. If you’d like an informal conversation to see if coaching might be something that can help you take that next great leap towards happiness, I’d be happy to speak to you.

Key Take-Away: You are your best tool, the better you understand yourself, the further you are likely to go in a direction that is congruent with who you are. This is an important key to happiness.

Call for Abstracts DIA Medical Information Conference September 2023

The Call for Abstracts for the Medical Information and Communications meeting is now open! This is a great opportunity for you to present your work to a diverse group of professionals and share your experiences with them.

Possible topics:

  • Customer Initiatives
  • Partnership with Stakeholders
  • Evolving the Med Info Structure
  • The Value of Med Info
  • AI Progression within Med Info
  • Compliance and Regulations
  • Other

Submit your abstract by April 19 and join the programme committee’s “open hours” to help you better prepare for your abstract submission. I will be hosting an open hour to discuss abstract submissions on 30th March at 10-11am CET together with co-hosts Marie-Luise Helmich, Sanofi and Michelle Bridenbaker, Idorsia.

Hope to see you there. If you have a topic that is not in the list but that you would like to present, why not dial in and share it with us?

Hope to see you there!

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

Best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
Attributed to Aristotle
Photo by Isabelle Widmer, Nice

Healthcare Professionals, sporting events and code of practice infractions

The beauty of life is that it constantly presents new learning opportunities. Every conversation, every trip and every interaction teaches me something.

Today’s blog is about perception, belief, reality and perspective. Each of us has a unique view of the world. Our socialisation, nationality, life and work experience, and exposure to other cultures, to name but a few, influence how we think and what we believe.

Remaining constantly conscious of this helps us approach life with curiosity, rather than judgement, and to keep an open mind.

Topics for today’s blog are:

– “We are here” – align to succeed
– Sparked by sparks – learning from the unforeseen
– Healthcare Professionals, sporting events and code of practice infractions
– Mind the Gap – are your job descriptions still fit for purpose?

“We are Here” – Align to Succeed

Often, I am consulted in situations when a project needs a course correction and/or an acceleration and the responsible team must align on a course of action. Timelines are tight, the pressure is intense, and tempers are frayed. In this situation stopping to participate in a workshop may feel counterintuitive.

When participants know the company, the project and the deliverables intimately, and they represent different departments that are all engaged in a single project, I strive for a “belief reset” when I kick off the meeting. The goal of this is to encourage participants to relinquish strongly held beliefs on the best solution and nudge them towards contemplating alternatives with their team-mates.

My approach varies; however, typical questions are as follows:

  1. I ask, “why are we here?”
  2. I ask, “What is the ideal outcome of these workshops?”
  3. I ask them to paint/draw the status quo
  4. I ask them to map out the status quo, the current project plan and milestones

The outcome is alignment on the reason we are there, agreement on objectives, and the consensus that we will work as a team to find the best course of action. Using this material, I work with teams to help them to integrate their knowledge and experience and to find and agree on potential solutions.

At the end of recent workshop, a participant said to me, “when I heard you were coming to work with us I wasn’t sure that stopping to do a workshop, when we are already behind on delivery, would be useful. Now, we have spent the time, however, I see that we are aligned in what we are trying to achieve, as well as on timelines and priorities. We are clear on the next steps and we know where we are going and how to get there. So, I can clearly see the value.”

Key takeaways for project delivery under pressure: At regular intervals in any project it is worth stopping, regrouping and ensuring that everyone is still aligned on where you are going and what your ultimate goals are. In order to map your path efficiently, and adapt as needed, you also need to agree with the team where you are currently at: your current starting point. Overall, slower is faster, otherwise you risk running headlong in the wrong direction.

Sparked by Sparks – Learning From the Unforeseen

After sparks flew from a light socket and the circuits shorted one Friday, my flat was plunged into darkness. The only room that was still functional was my kitchen. I called the electrician, in response to his question of whether this is an emergency, I said “Not really, I can do without electricity over the weekend, it’s not urgent.” I did regret that answer briefly on Friday night, but the next two days turned out to be very interesting.

I navigated the darkness without torches or candles, just to see what it is like, then at some point I switched to candles and discovered their limitations. Things I learned:

  1. Doing without artificial light was interesting and educational
  2. Living without a computer/printer for one weekend was easy
  3. Finding items in cupboards/differentiating colours is hard by candlelight

I realised that while I adapted fast to non-functional light-switches, I became acutely aware of how grateful I am that I have running water. My days contracted to fit into the time when it was light outside.

In conversation with a friend recently we discussed the value of accepting situations as they are, rather than fighting them. Whether it is the lack of electricity, a delayed plane, a frustrating encounter with a call centre, a project delay, a work challenge, an argument etc. there is much to be gained by approaching the experience with curiosity rather than anger.

Key Take-Away: Sometimes an unforeseen situation offers the opportunity to gain a different perspective. N.B. I am not saying that every unpleasant situation is a blessing in disguise.

Healthcare Professionals, Sporting Events and Code of Practice Infractions

If you are interested in Code of Practice infractions, the UK’s Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PCMPA) website provides endless entertainment. The PCMPA is to quote their website: “the self-regulatory body which administers the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) Code of Practice for the Pharmaceutical Industry, independently of the ABPI. It was established by the ABPI on 1 January 1993”.

In my last newsletter I wrote about the importance of thinking before liking on LinkedIn, and shared an example of Code Infractions. You can read the article here.

The appropriate provision of hospitality to a Health Care Professional (HCP), a category which includes any professional who provides health care including physicians, dentists, nurses, physiotherapists and others, is clearly outlined in the Code of Practice: appropriate expense, appropriate venue, business context, e.g., appropriate hospitality focused on subsistence may be provided in the context of a business meeting, educational exchange, advisory board etc.

In a recent conversation a colleague wondered whether attending a sporting event with an HCP who bought his own ticket is permissible and if yes under what circumstances.

Curious as to whether the PCMPA website had any examples of Code infractions linked to sporting events, I visited the website. In the example two pharma company employees agreed to meet up with a physician at a sporting event after having discovered they all planned to attend while at an international congress. The HCP bought three tickets at the door and was reimbursed by the pharma representatives. No expense claims were submitted to the company for the tickets. Similarly, no expense claims were submitted to the company for beverages bought during the course of the event. However, the PCMPA noted that after the event, drinks purchased in the hotel bar, were expensed to the pharma representatives’ employer.

The PCMPA panel ruled that although there was no evidence that the pharmaceutical company had paid for the HCPs ticket, the attendance of a Champion’s League football match with a UK HCP while attending an international meeting and providing subsequent hospitality gave a poor impression. The ruling on the PCMPA website was “The Panel noted that hospitality provided in particular at international meetings attracted much public scrutiny and given the poor impression given by the arrangements considered, on balance, that the company had brought discredit to, and reduced confidence in, the pharmaceutical industry a breach of Clause 2 of the Code was ruled”.

Some pharma company representatives have engaged with their HCP customers for decades. In instances where the company employee is an HCP, customers may be old friends from university or colleagues they worked with when they were clinicians.

In the example above, the representatives may have felt that as neither drinks nor tickets were charged to their employer, their attendance at the event was a private affair and that as such there would be no risk of a code infraction.

Key Take-Away: Beyond applying the Code of Conduct, also consider the context of an HCP interaction and reflect on the impression a neutral observer might have.

Mind the Gap – Are Your Job Descriptions Still fit for Purpose?

Companies are restructuring, letting FTE’s go but also looking for new talent. An article I read today about younger job seekers was interesting. Whereas in the past job seekers sought primarily to impress their potential employer, the focus of the modern job seeker appears to be on finding a good match, according to this article.

This is smart, it’s important to know what drives you to excel and consequently what environment you will be likely to perform in well. Large, medium or startup type companies are not created equal, and depending on your personality type, your preferences and ideal employer will differ. So knowing who you are, and then finding job opportunities in companies that can provide you with a setting in which you can succeed, makes sense.

What struck me though, was that how job seekers rated classic job description phrases according to this article:

  • We are looking for a self-starter was interpreted as – don’t expect to be onboarded
  • Must be able to multi-task was interpreted as – we have let significant numbers of people go and you will be doing the job of many
  • Flexible individual – was taken to mean – we expect you to work 24/7 in line with the needs of the organisation

Personally, I would be attracted by a job that is looking for a flexible self-starter with the ability to multi-task. More so than by a job that outlined my every activity and gave me no freedom to breathe. However, the article made me reflect on the possibility that perhaps today’s job seekers are seeking something different.

Key Take-Away: When looking for new recruits it may be worth reassessing the wording of current JD’s and what you say in interviews to see if how you present the opportunity is fit for purpose for your target audience.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

Best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Hans Reniers on Unsplash

LinkedIn likes and the Code of Practice

Welcome to February. January has been a busy month, and, as you read this I will be working in a city I have never been to before, on a project I am excited about, with a client I admire enormously for their innovative approach to problem solving, general verve and gumption.

Topics for today’s blog are:

– LinkedIn likes, the Code of Practice and social media guidelines.
– Volume, speed, efficiency and successful communication
– Medical Affairs knowledge management best practice
– Customer engagement considerations? Or why do your customers engage with you?

LinkedIn Likes, the Code of Practice and your Social Media Guidelines

At the end of last year I ran a workshop on compliance, codes of practice, and rules and regulations regarding the promotion of prescription-only medicinal products to healthcare professionals. During the workshop we discussed digital materials, social media and LinkedIn.

Since its inception LinkedIn has mutated from a resource focused on sharing professional content and opportunities, to a buffet serving a mix of inspirational quotes, regurgitated content, information on family holidays and children’s scholastic accomplishments. This shift in focus is interesting from a human perspective, possibly accelerated by the pandemic, but it is not problematic per se. Another shift is: More and more pharmaceutical industry professionals are sharing content on activities their companies are undertaking. There is data on patient-focused projects, information on clinical trial results and I recently saw a MOA video that had a disclaimer text running across the bottom “resource intended only for Healthcare Professionals”.

Where content is shared by senior company directors, or links back to the corporate website, it may seem safe to conclude that risk assessment was performed before posting and that as you didn’t post it yourself a simple like may not be an issue. However, this conclusion would be wrong.

In 2022 a UK based senior employee of a pharma company liked a post that had been written by a US-based physician. The HCP wrote that it was an exciting time to be a surgeon, and that the product is ringing in a new era for a patient population he treats. The senior pharma company employee, who was UK based, where the product was not licensed, liked the post. This case was brought to the attention of the PMCPA. The PMCPA Panel concluded that the employees ‘like’ would have led to proactive dissemination of the post to LinkedIn connections in the UK, bringing the matter within the scope of the UK code and ruled that there had been a code breach.

While social media training had been provided to this employee, the PMCPA panel noted that although the social media policy alerted employees to the risk of using social media in a way that could be interpreted as endorsing third party statements on the company’s medicines, neither the company’s social media policy, nor quick reference guide, mentioned the risk of liking posts on LinkedIn, which might subsequently be disseminated to one’s own LinkedIn connections.

This is but one example, there are many breaches of code linked to LinkedIn posts, for this reason, I have chosen to not mention the product/company name.

Key Considerations for LinkedIn Engagement: 1) Think before you like. 2) Check your social media engagement policy for text providing guidance on social media use, including LinkedIn likes.

Volume, Speed, Efficiency and Successful Communication

During the Christmas holiday I took a break from work-related social media. When I came back after my break and saw how many messages I had received during my absence I felt some pressure. However, I did not regret the break and I realised that I hadn’t missed much.

My dad, who never got used to using email told me, that before he retired he liked to have conversations with his co-workers and team. He would pick up the phone and solve issues immediately, call a meeting, or if, documentation was required, he would write a memo. As memos were time consuming to craft, he did this last one infrequently, and only after much consideration.

Writing an email is free, sending a text message and knowing it has been read, takes seconds. But after having had an unashamed love affair with email since I got my first email account many years ago, I am now starting to reconsider. Considering the volume of emails I manage every week; I have started to reassess how I communicate and what modality I use. I used to believe that speed equals efficiency, instead I have a new motto “right message, to the right person, at the right time using the right mode of communication”. The result? The pressure to respond immediately has dissipated. It has been relieved by a feeling of calm. So far the upside. To date, I haven’t seen a downside.

Key takeaway: Less is more, while you cannot not communicate, but you can choose when, how and how often.

Medical Affairs Knowledge Management Best Practice

Excellent Medical Affairs knowledge management will: increase your consistency, reduce reduplication of effort, ensure your content is up to date and benefit teams around the world. Best practice approaches include the following:

  1. A content engine, a team that is dedicated to generating standard response documents for Medical Information, bespoke letters in response to individual enquiries, centralised literature searching capabilities etc. How this looks in your organisation will depend on the product portfolio.
  2. A standardised format for content that you disseminate, this provides customers with a consistent product, and a harmonised look and feel, which is professional.
  3. A content management system, where you keep all content, including updating it, retiring it, putting it through an approval process etc. and maintain an audit trail for your materials.
  4. SOPs outlining, who write content, who can adapt content, and whether there are any special circumstances.
  5. Disclaimers for use with content and updating them regularly.
  6. Training individuals on how to use content.
  7. An approach for translations.

If you implement the above, all your teams will know where to find relevant materials, they will know it is has been reviewed and approved, and they will know it is up to date. You on the other hand will know that your company is disseminating current, reviewed and approved materials, and your customers will receive consistent quality with a consistent look and feel.

Customer Engagement Considerations? Or why do your Customers Engage with you?

I often have interesting conversations with a teenager. He has a thriving online business, he designs his own clothes, markets these online and at his school, and is now facing a stock out, and the problem that his Chinese delivery company cannot deliver fast enough to meet the demand. He has sold his clothes to customers around the world, which amazes me, but he also has a big following at his school.

He sometimes comes to me to tell me about his business development plans. Recently, he shared with me what it is that makes his customers buy his product. He said, “the reason my customers buy my products at school is because I go to their school. They identify with the brand, because they feel, that in some way, they are part of the brand. If the brand is a success, they feel that they have contributed, it’s a feeling of being connected”. He went on to say that he wanted to expand to other schools in the region, and that he had considered recruiting brand ambassadors, who are pupils at these schools, to potentially spark the same feeling of connection, that he has managed to ignite at his own school. After some thought he said, “But I don’t think that will work though, as it won’t be authentic, people will feel that. So, instead I guess, I will need to make friends in these schools and expand that way”.

A recent customer said to me that Medical Information has the power to differentiate a company in the eyes of the customer. I think this is true. I also think that we could do worse than to reflect regularly on why our customers engage with us, and what it is that makes them value our service and keep coming back.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by George Pagan III on Unsplash

Key considerations for building a Medical Information function

One month in, and the year has started with fireworks, not literally, as this year’s fireworks in my city were cancelled, but in every other way. While companies were busy rethinking their strategies and organisations during the pandemic, it seems that 2023 is another year of reinvention. Wherever you are, whatever your goals this year, I hope you are off to a good start and, like myself, enjoying the buds that are starting to appear on the trees and bushes outside, heralding lighter days, and warmer weather.

 Topics for today’s blog are:

– How to demonstrate your ROI
– Considerations on building a medical information function
– My New Year’s resolutions
– Upcoming Medical Information conferences

How to Demonstrate your ROI

I was once interviewed by the team of a consulting company. The team was managing a merger between two pharmaceutical companies. They asked me to explain to them how Medical Affairs works and what MSLs, Medical Directors and Medical Information etc. do. The goal of our one-hour call, it transpired, was that they were trying to identify where they could reduce headcount, without impacting the business, to reduce costs for their client.

This experience reminded me that functions like Medical Information while universally accepted as necessary, because they are legally required, are not frequently considered as being important in relation to business strategy. This bias leads some companies to focus outwards in order to understand what customers need, instead of also benefiting from the data internal teams hold.

One reason for this, is that typically blunt instruments, such as ROI, are used to measure the value of internal teams. The formula works well for goods, or to a certain extent for teams that are commercially active, but falls short in measuring the value of functions that do not directly generate income for a company. It would however, be short-sighted to conclude, that, because it is hard to calculate a financial return for a certain team, that this team, does not in a myriad ways, impact a company’s financial performance. It would also be incorrect to maintain, merely because ROI is not habitually calculated for non-commercial team, that an ROI is incalculable. While developing a formula is beyond the scope of this newsletter, it is interesting to ponder on how such a formula might look. Some examples where very large ROIs could easily be calculated and demonstrated:

  • Medical Information teams identify indications that lead to a label extension.
  • Medical Information teams identify issues with sales force materials, based on HCP questions, leading to improvement of materials and hence improved sales force engagement.
  • Medical Information teams identify countries with high interest in accessing a novel product, leading to the adaptation of the product’s launch strategy.
  • Medical Information teams identify an issue with a medical device, leading to low uptake in the market, and low market share compared to the competition, after the situation is remediated uptake improves.
  • PV teams identify signals and address them early ensuring safe use of the product for patients, brand confidence and continued product use.

Unfortunately, until such a time as their value and impact on the business is widely accepted, many critical functions, including Medical Information teams, may continue to struggle to access to budget and headcount, which would enable them to move further beyond maintenance to innovation and more value generation.

Key action item: Considering your function and the company’s products, reflect on what topics you might proactively monitor with a view to improving the safe and effective use of your company’s products. Consider how you can use this information to support your function in reaching its goals.

Considerations for Building a Medical Information Function

Any company that markets medicinal products must have a scientific service that provides information on products to customers, including HCPs, patients and any other stakeholders. While the legal requirement is universal, what this means regarding the set-up of the scientific function varies dramatically. At a bare minimum you will need – a way to track Medical Information inquiries, a way to perform reconciliation with Quality Assurance and Pharmacovigilance teams, and professionals, with a scientific background, who understand the products and who can respond to all inquiries, whatever channel they are received by.

How you set this up will vary dramatically on your global footprint as well as on your company’s expansion plans for the future, the products you market and your current headcount. Whether you are redesigning your current set-up, or building a Medical Information team from scratch, here are some things you need to consider:

  • What is your current product portfolio, and what products are in the pipeline?
  • Are your products in orphan indications or are you launching a first in class product?
  • Do you have existing relationships with HCPs in the indications in which you are launching?
  • Are you launching in many markets or in a single market only?
  • Do you market all products globally, or do you work with partners, who are responsible for providing medical information?
  • Who is your typical customer: physicians, pharmacists or patients and relatives?
  • What are your language needs and material needs?
  • What activities would you insource/outsource?
  • What resources do you have in place and what capacity do they have?
  • What are your launch plans?
  • What inquiry volumes do you anticipate?
  • What digital channels does your company already use, can you capitalise on these?

These are just some of the questions which will help you identify your ideal set-up, including resourcing, the type of tracking tool to implement, analytics activities, what activities you will perform internally/externally and how to capitalise on the resources you already have. Furthermore, whether it makes more sense to focus on individual markets at the beginning, while keeping a global approach in mind as you build, or whether instead now is the time to evaluate/initiate/improve a globally integrated set-up.

Key take-away: build for now with a view to the future.

My New Year’s resolutions

At a recent dinner party, I was asked what my New Year’s resolution is. Over the years how I think about this has change. Instead of annual goals I have longer term goals, instead of looking at performance against goals in the span of a year, I think about how things are evolving and have evolved over time. Many of the most meaningful changes in my life have taken years to unfold, and as long as things are moving in the right direction, I find I am content.

However, there are two things I plan to do this year, not particularly difficult things, but I suspect they will have a significant impact: the first is to plan my holidays and to take them, the second one is to identify things I should stop doing. I wrote about this in a recent newsletter. It is very easy to keep on adding tasks, experiences and volunteering work to an already full schedule, it is sometimes easier to say “yes”, than “no”, what is infinitely harder, is to stop, take stock of all things that are going on, to prioritise what is truly important and to stop doing the rest.

A friend recently said to me, if you list all your activities in order of priority, and you end up with a list of 15 items, you will realise that the ones in positions lower down on the list are in fact the enemies of the activities you consider the most important.

I have been thinking about that a lot.

Key reminder: Less is more.

Upcoming Medical Information Conferences

Time to mark your diary for this years Medical Information Conferences. The first one on the calendar is MASC 2023, which will be held in Anaheim April 17th to April 19th. Prior to the main event there is a useful course by professionals for professionals, which is very helpful, especially for new joiners to Medical Information the title: Medical Communications Primer: The Fundamentals of Medical Communications. Other topics at this meeting include Medical communications insight generation, the landscape of patient engagement in pharma, customer experience, working with patients, privacy versus input and the future is now, digital health therapeutics and supportive technologies. The early bird rate is still available until February 17th. We are currently planning for the next EU Medical Information and Scientific Communications meeting, the agenda is being discussed and we will be sending out calls for abstracts too. If you want to present your data to the wider Medical Information population or you have a topic you want us to explore, now is the time to reach out to me, or my programme committee colleagues, to submit agenda ideas, your Wishlist or tell us about the topics you want to speak about. Now is your chance to help us shape the agenda!

Key action item: reflect on any projects that you have been involved in recently that would make for a good presentation at this years Medical Information conference.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Isabelle C. Widmer. London, December 2022

AI-Giarism and the future of content generation

It’s a new year and the journey continues. I hope you made it aboard your train and are speeding mindfully to your next destination in 2023. I wish you all the best and look forward to catching up as we enjoy face to face meetings once more.

Topics for today’s blog are:

– AI-Giarism – or the future of creativity and content generation
– Project planning reminders – remember you have less control than you believe
– Mars or the sock drawer
– Students, employees and patients of the future

AI-Giarism – or the Future of Creativity and Content Generation

Like many others I recently tested ChatGPT. A friend is an IT engineer and, when I mentioned, that ChatGPT was being used by students to write papers, she said, confidently “Oh the plagiarism software will pick that up”. As ChatGPT writes bespoke responses based on various data sources across the web, and presumably the responses provided are not verbatim sentence copies, I wondered how this might work. And, I was right, it seems, using AI to write your homework, may not be plagiarism, but it would certainly constitute cheating, at least based on our current understanding of cheating.

An article in the Guardian recently addressed this topic (you can read the whole article here) and quoted Scott Aaronson, a guest researcher at OpenAI, the company that designed ChatGPT. Aaronson reportedly said that OpenAI is in the process of designing “a system for countering cheating, by statistically watermarking the outputs”. The system would be based on pattern recognition, giving the AI outputs a unique linguistic signature, which wouldn’t be readily apparent to the casual reader, but would be identifiable as machine-generated text if someone were looking for it.

The challenge here is, that it’s simply not practical for every teacher to run tests on every text that is submitted. But perhaps, that isn’t necessary. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before students have to submit proof of original work, by submitting an anti-plagiarism software scan, along with a copy of their homework? When I suggested this to a friend, he said “We used to do maths in our heads, now we use a calculator. Perhaps in the future all text will be written by AI and there is no value in teaching people how to write anymore?”. Language is how we express ourselves, however, the genie is out of the bottle, and it will influence how we write and work in the future.

In the past when I wrote radiology reports as a student, we had standard texts saved, for standard results, any normal result report had the identical text. We would type in the name of the patient; age etc. and then select the standard text for a male or female scan result and insert that into the report. This was in 1994, no AI, but standardised, signed off by a human, but that was it. Looked at in this light, the use of AI generated text for standard situations seems much less a huge leap of progress than a natural improvement of an old process.

Perhaps in the future standard texts will be written by AI, for example the introduction section to scientific papers, the materials and methods section, the introduction section etc. and the results and interpretation section will be written by humans. This could work for industry generated standard introduction texts too, enabling humans to put more focus on the creative aspects of the work at hand.

What are your thoughts, does the idea excite, or frighten you?

Key takeaway: As AI generated content becomes standard practice we will redefine what original work and what original thinking are.

Project Planning Reminders – Remember you have less Control than you Believe

It’s unusual for me to take a proper holiday. But last Christmas, after a challenging 2022, I decided to take time off. I was really looking forward to spending time with family and to taking care of tasks around the house. However, in keeping with the rest of 2022, I tested positive for COVID on Christmas eve, so ended up spending the holiday by myself.

Determined to make the best of it, I put up a Christmas tree, and decorated my house with flowers, so that I would at least spend my time alone in festive surroundings. Friends brought me soup. I felt taken care of. It was, overall, not a bad Christmas. Some thoughts as you plan projects for 2023.

  1. Plan for the foreseen: Remember not each month is created equal. Be sure to take holidays into account when planning your projects. Especially if you are located in the US working globally. It is always good to check with your colleagues in other locations when their summer holidays are, and how long they typically take.
  2. Plan for the unforeseen: illness, reorganisations, people leaving the organisation. You don’t know when it will happen, but you do know that it will.
  3. Move fast: Plan well and move fast. Be realistic with your budget, project planning and sign-off but do it as speedily as possible. Often teams spend a long time planning, to discover, that when they are ready to move on a project, budgets have been frozen.
  4. Resist the urge to please at any cost: Projects often address issues in organisations that have existed for a long time. When the issue is finally deemed pertinent to be addressed, senior leaders frequently want immediate solutions. Resist the urge to promise a fast resolution.

Key takeaways: a) You cannot control the future, but you can learn from the past: prevent the preventable and put contingency plans in place for everything else b) When things don’t go to plan, it’s best to resign yourself to a new situation and to invest your energy in putting new plans in place, rather than fighting the change c) aim for sustainable implementation rather than speed.

Mars or the Sock Drawer

In the weekend edition of the NZZ newspaper there was an interview with architect Vera Mulyani, the founder of Mars City Design, which creates architectural blueprints for sustainable cities on Mars (source IBB online). I skimmed the article, but what stayed with me was the intimation, that by building on Mars, we would be solving problems we have had for generations. This is an expression of a universal phenomenon: when there is a critical problem that needs solving, we tend to dream of alternatives, or focus on other tasks.

A classic example might be if you really need to do your tax return, but instead you decide to tidy your sock drawer. Pollution won’t be solved by us moving to Mars, that’s an avoidance strategy.

Your tax return won’t be filled out by you tidying your sock drawer. At least it never worked for me. I mention this because the behaviour is universal. And because a friend once said “we keep implementing new solutions, new projects, new things, but we never seem to be able to let the old ones go, so we are all overworked”. In the words of another friend “it’s all run, run, run, we rarely take time to stop and think about where we are running to”.

So, this year, as you consider your activities, perhaps ask yourself the questions:

  • “Are there activities that we should stop doing?”
  • “Are there activities that we should start doing?”
  • “Are any of our activities “sock drawer activities” i.e., they look important, they make us feel good, but ultimately we use them to avoid doing the things that will matter.
  • “Are there activities we are not doing, because we don’t know how to start, because they seem hard to do, because we feel fearful for some reason?”

Key takeaway: Identifying your “sock drawer activities” may help you identify the actions that need taking, that you are avoiding.

Students, Employees and Patients of the Future

When I was a teenager the library stocked books in various sections. Fantasy, cooking, young adult etc. Films were, as they still are, rated by suitability for age groups and the real world was split into adult, teenage and child adapted reading, activities and interests.

The internet has changed all that. On the weekend I was having a conversation about Codeine and Morphine with a teenager. The conversation started out with the statement “Codeine is metabolised to morphine.” It’s a long time since I took pharmacology and as I cast around in my memory for data on this specific topic, I was frustrated, but unsurprised, when I came up short. Then in quick succession came questions on the addiction potential, mode of action and uses of codeine versus morphine. When, I challenged the statement “all drugs are addictive if abused” with the question, whether there are no products that result in immediate addiction upon first exposure, I received the response “Yes, methamphetamine”. This was on Saturday evening while we were playing cards.

It brought home to me, again, that all knowledge is now available. That data we couldn’t readily get access to when I was at school is now freely available. Topics are no longer restricted and pre-sorted into gender-specific, age-specific or other categories. The only thing that limits access to knowledge is a person’s interests and of course their ability to identify accurate data sources.

Key takeaway: how people process, think, access information and combine data has changed.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

Wishing you all the very best for 2023!

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Isabelle C. Widmer. London, December 2022