BioPharma Beat: The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

September 4, 2013
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Much has been said about the rapid evolution of the environment in which medical advances get announced, communicated and sold.  Research labs, universities, as well as pharmaceutical, biotechnology, diagnostics and devices companies, all count for their existence on communicating their news and stories to their respective audiences.  These can be: other researchers, the general scientific community, doctors, nurses, managed care decision-makers, hospital administrators, patients, investors, or the public in general.

Much has been said about the rapid evolution of the environment in which medical advances get announced, communicated and sold.  Research labs, universities, as well as pharmaceutical, biotechnology, diagnostics and devices companies, all count for their existence on communicating their news and stories to their respective audiences.  These can be: other researchers, the general scientific community, doctors, nurses, managed care decision-makers, hospital administrators, patients, investors, or the public in general.

biopharmaceuticalsFor what seems to be an eternity, these communication needs have relied on a few core channels: publications such as medical and scientific journals; medical and scientific meetings and conventions; or personal visits by liaisons and sales representatives.  Every few years — for at least the last twenty-five — there have been dire predictions of the demise of every one of these vehicles and channels.  We have heard many times that they are dead or about to be dead and are being replaced by some exciting new alternative means of communication.

This conversation about new commercial and scientific “dissemination” models has intensified in the last four or five years as the pace of scientific innovation has accelerated dramatically, simultaneously – and perhaps even partly the result of – the growth of all kinds of digital capabilities.  Is this finally the time for a major shift in the way we learn about medical advances?

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The answer, perhaps not surprisingly, is “yes and no”.  Indeed the advent of new collaboration, exchange and communication technologies offers all kinds of new ways to disseminate information and a big evolution is underway.  Also, a few traditional media, such as the AMA’s American Medical News, have decided to shutter.  However, at least for the foreseeable future, most of these vehicles remain firmly in place and the new digital media plays complementary and supportive role rather than a substitutive one.

Publishing in medical and scientific journals, attending medical and scientific meetings and conventions, and personal visits by liaisons and sales representatives still take place with more or less the same intensity and frequency, albeit with some changes due to evolving regulations, budget constraints, and growing access barriers.  However, all these vehicles or channels are now supplemented and enhanced through the application of exciting and capable digital technologies.

Every major journal now publishes online versions, often earlier than the paper versions, in fact.  Medical societies and academic institutions deliver online and multi-media education programming in addition to live Continuing Medical Education and live conferences and conventions.  Pharmaceutical, biotechnology, diagnostics and devices companies all have disease and product websites, and also disseminate education via various electronic means.  These same companies equip liaisons and representatives with tablets and amazing apps to help them share information in ways not before possible.  Medical conventions, though still destination-driven, are greatly enhanced with mobile planning and participation tools.

Two important new industry trends, which we’ll explore in future issues of this blog, are the scattering of communication control and the drive for transparency.  In the first case, whereas in the past the owners and developers of the information were in full control over their dissemination, now virtually anyone can share information – sometimes factual, sometimes not.  The second key trend is related to dramatic changes in the calls for complete transparency and open access to all kinds of information, ranging from raw data from scientific experiments and clinical trials, to insights about the relationships between stakeholders.  Both of these trends are having an important impact on how, when, where and by whom information is disseminated.

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So. Clearly, we are not seeing the end of old ways, but we are seeing an evolution that is more of an enhancement and supplementation than a replacement.  But the question remains and the prediction of the big disruption and resulting demise of traditional communications gets repeated once again.  

(biopharmaceuticals / shutterstock)