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McCann Health Medical Communications COO on Data, Representation, and Putting the Patient First

In the second conversation in this series, Dipanwita Das sits down with McCann Health Medical Communications COO Alice Choi. Their wide ranging discussion covers a host of issues, from how best to communicate scientific data in a world of increasingly accessible (but also increasingly complex) information; how to improve data sets and medical treatments through better representations in clinical trials; and what it means to truly put the patient first. 

A recurring theme in the discussion is the increasing volume and complexity of data in life sciences. This makes AI extremely exciting as a technology that can power software products that support better decision making, augmenting — rather than replacing — the work of human experts in the field and laboratory.

On evidence-based scientific storytelling

Communicating science effectively is all important, whether in public health or in the prescription of drugs and products. Effective communication is core to the work of Alice Choi — and of medical science liaisons as well, with whom she works closely. Even as medical data becomes much more generally accessible, it is still incumbent upon those working in life sciences to share an effective narrative. Here, Alice introduces the concept of evidence-based scientific storytelling.

Alice says, “Over the past several years, and this even predates the pandemic, the pharmaceutical industry has been moving to a much more transparent model. We are moving away from a hard sell to a more scientific, evidence-based approach. 

“And this is where the role of the medical science liaison teams comes in. The medical liaison now is becoming much more about a two-way scientific exchange. And that is a much more credible option than just having a raft of salespeople knocking on the physician’s door. I think what MSLs are probably feeling is the desire to be as evidence-based as possible. And that can be challenging because of the raft of data that one has to go through to stay current. That can be quite demanding. 

“But then also, you have to combine it with the ability to have a narrative and exchange, and have a dialogue. And I think this is where the importance of what I'm going to call evidence-based scientific storytelling really comes in. So there is definitely a shift, as I said earlier, from that hard sell, knocking on doors to, ’Hey, let's have a robust scientific exchange.’”

On representation and data

When it comes to patient data being collected in a clinical trial scenario, Alice says researchers need to ask hard questions. First, Alice asks, “Is that actually representative of the patients who are suffering from that condition? And very clearly, there is still a huge problem with representation in clinical trials. I think that's massive.”

Alice continues, “And there's a lot of work that needs to be done there. It's something that regulatory bodies like the FDA are very conscious of. They have a whole governance document on this. And it's not just the under-representation in clinical trials that we need to be concerned about. It's also in the treating population, and those who are communicating the data. 

“It's something that I do feel quite passionately about. And it's not just to do with gender. It has to do with race, social mobility, ableism, and hidden conditions —- things like neurodiversity. So I think there is a whole heap of work to be done there that we need to try and tackle collectively.”

On what patient-centric organizations do differently

Patient-centric care — in other words, putting the patient first — has become something of a buzzword among healthcare organizations. But what does it actually consist of in practice? For Alice Choi, it means several things specifically, from better communication with participants during and after clinical trials, to transforming technical nomenclature into plain language in order to better communicate published research.

Alice says organizations can talk the talk, but “you want to see what's actually happening. For me, that would be seeing patients have the opportunity to be involved, right from the clinical development process. It would be much more open dialogue and engagement around their participation in clinical trials. [And] what happens afterwards? Sometimes the communication just stops there. A lot of participants in trials would love to continue the dialogue, hear more about what actually happened to that trial. 

“I think another nice thing would be acknowledgement of their participation and contribution. And I think if you were to actually do a search or review a lot of peer reviewed publications, I'm not sure that the overwhelming majority would thank or acknowledge the patients that actually took part in that trial and helped generate data.”

Next, “on the communication side … peer review data can be notoriously difficult to access, and digest, and understand. Are we actually [trying] to make that more accessible for patients? Is a company actually committing to publish their data in open access journals, rather than in subscription-only, behind paywalls? Is that company actually going out of their way to produce enhanced content alongside that data? And by enhanced content I’m meaning things like nice little slide decks, video clips, infographics to make that complex data more understandable. 

“And a final thought… Are companies taking care to always produce a plain language summary alongside some of their more complex data so that patients, or even busy healthcare professionals — are we helping them absorb the data in the quickest, fastest, most meaningful way possible?”