How will COVID-19 affect the future of comms on clinical trials and R&D?

The impact of COVID-19 on people’s physical and mental health is being well documented, even though many of the effects will become visible only over time.

What is the future of healthcare comms about clinical trials and R&D, post COVID-19? asks Miranda Dini
What is the future of healthcare comms about clinical trials and R&D, post COVID-19? asks Miranda Dini

But how well understood is the effect the pandemic is having – and will continue to have – on the healthcare industry, particularly as it relates to clinical trials, communicating data and the future R&D pipeline in areas unrelated to COVID?

The lockdown has been a challenge to society in a multitude of ways, but it has also led to an extraordinary burst of creativity, which anyone on social media can attest to.

Healthcare communicators, who have always had to operate in a heavily restricted and regulated space, are now discovering a new level of resourcefulness to address the challenges the industry is facing.

When the lockdown started, many pharmaceutical and device companies took the difficult decision to delay or cancel clinical trials, even in areas of high unmet need or for molecules where there had been promising early data.

But at the same time, healthcare systems and providers have moved at an unparalleled pace to adopt new technology or policies and to cut through regulatory red tape to support innovation.

Hopefully, these current approaches will be maintained in the future.

Sadly, the third sector is looking at a very different future.

Charities and patient advocacy groups (PAGs) are facing a huge deficit as resources and attention have turned elsewhere and fundraising events have been cancelled.

This is affecting charities across all sectors, but is compounded for PAGs as they are being squeezed at a time when people with healthcare challenges may have the greatest need for support.

Furthermore, some patients may soon be even worse off – for example, if they avoided necessary clinic visits due to fears of putting themselves at risk or if clinical trials of promising treatments have been delayed or cancelled – and PAGs may not be there to help.

Charities will need to be creative to safeguard their sustainability and, hopefully, the industry and healthcare communicators will back them with resources and assistance to ensure patients retain their support.

Professional societies, the lifeblood of which is medical conferences, have also needed to harness creativity.

As the world collectively came to grips with video calls, seemingly overnight, these organisations – and communicators – similarly needed to quickly learn and adopt new technologies, as virtual events replaced live meetings.

Unlocking the best approaches for virtual congresses to communicate data and reach target audiences, reworking well-considered data comms strategies and determining how to cut through the noise (all-COVID, all the time) would normally have taken months of planning.

But we work in ‘dog years’ now.

Companies completely recalibrated their medical congress approaches in a matter of weeks, if not days, and it’s been largely successful.

Virtual meetings should not just be ‘Plan B,’ but instead part of the permanent communications mix to effectively reach healthcare providers.

It is well known that challenge breeds creativity, and to succeed in this time of extraordinary challenges, one must have both an innovative and agile approach.

As with society as a whole, the pandemic will have a ripple effect on the healthcare industry in numerous ways; many of which may not yet be readily apparent, but which will be critical to understand and prepare for.

Miranda Dini is the global healthcare lead for Avenir Global and managing partner at Axon

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