Joanne Shaw, Chairman, Datapharm Communications Ltd.

The problem with predicting the future is you’re more likely to be wrong than right. Think of the 1977 prediction that no-one would want a computer in their home. Thirty years later, most UK homes have more that 100 microprocessors, machines with chips and actual computers.

Yet true visionaries can get it right and even shape the future. in 1948 the sci-fi great Arthur C Clarke wrote a story about space travel to the moon, space shuttles & International Space stations.

So with this pressure, what predictions did Joanne have in store for us? She gave us the vision for a national service for enquiries on medicines, a project being facilitated by Datapharm. Although I’m working on the project as an external consultant, this report aims to give an overview as presented at PIPA. Joanne has extensive experience of patient information through her involvement with Ask the Medicines week, role in NHS Direct and other non-executive directorships. She could give us a different perspective on our world.

People wanting information on medicines face a number of challenges. They don’t know where to start to find the information they want. Once they start, they face a multitude of choices within the NHS, pharmaceutical companies or patient associations. Consulting different organisations may then lead to inconsistent or confusing answers. No wonder GPs dread patients walking into the consulting room with a sheaf of website print-outs.

Yet we all want a world where we can easily sort out problems for ourselves, or go to a trusted provider for clarity or further help. That ideal world already exists for many popular consumer products: successful companies know how to get it right. So how does this translate into our world of pharmaceutical industry medical information? We only see a fraction of the enquiries in the UK about diseases and the use of our medicines. Our enquiry service is mostly reactive and anyone contacting us, no matter if they are a valued customer or not, needs a response. We may also miss weak signals like emerging safety issues or competitor activity unless we build in active reporting mechanisms.

So what would a national enquiry service for medicines offer? It could ensure that medicines enquiries are easily and effectively answered to an agreed high standard. PIPA has had standards in place since 1995 but not all providers work to a common agreed high standard. Harmonisation could arise. For the system to work, a knowledge bank of medicines information would need to be built, with a means to capturing which questions are asked so that it can grow according to need. Datapharm have expertise in developments like this (e.g. electronic medicines compendium). When new launches are planned, the knowledge bank could be primed with key information, ready to go. Capturing the types of questions asked and people asking them could provide business intelligence and help identify safety signals that probably wouldn’t be reported to the authorities right now. This could be part of any Risk Management Plans companies have as part of their pharmacovigilance surveillance.

So who would provide the service? Datapharm propose that existing commercial or NHS organisations could form a network and use their existing infrastructure. Through better co-ordination and collaboration, costs could be reduced, music to any pharmaceutical executive ears right now. But as Joanne said, it’s not about money but about

intelligent use of existing infrastructure.

If you want to know more you can Email – Mark Heselgrave at Datapharm or email me.

“But won’t that mean I could be out of a job?” you cry. It depends. Many departments already use outsourcing to select exactly how they want to use their valuable in-house resource. This could be an extension of that principle.

So what does this vision of the future hold for us? Threat or opportunity? Any Medical Information department does so much more than just answering enquiries on their medicines, so the service could give us a better opportunity to focus those value-added activities. Working with brand teams, writing website copy or material for promoted products, approving promotional materials are just some examples. “We still need medical information” Joanne said

Maybe those 60% of people we heard about who want to change their job could become more satisfied with their existing role and stay.

For the many years I’ve worked in medical information, there has always been the doom-mongers who worry about the downfall of our roles, yet the Medical Information community thrives. Just remember, there will always be a need for people who can clearly & confidently interpret complex scientific information to suit the appropriate audience, from hospital consultant to anxious patient.

Carpe Diem.