“Asking is the beginning of receiving. Make sure you
don’t go to the ocean with a teaspoon…”
Jim Rohn (thanks to Alexander Bedenkov, Schering Plough)

Could the programme for day two live up to the high standards and inspiring presentations set by day one? You bet!

I personally found the sessions on global or regional collaborations and operational models inspiring as it reflects my own interests. The speakers made their considerable achievements seem so easy but I know from personal experience how difficult it can be.

Marianne Berrens, Centocor, chaired the first session on European Collaboration Models and uniquely introduced her speakers by revealing some dark secrets involving Richard Branson, a wedding & four scratches and paintball fights.

Common drivers for setting up regional or global groups for all speakers were inconsistency of information across borders, duplication of effort, risk of regulatory issues (AE reporting), variable customer experiences per country and loss of vital business intelligence.

Katie Gibson, Janssen-Cilag, explained how her regional team (covering Europe, Middle East & Africa – another EMEA!) came into being and outlined their services. Challenges included gaining resource and alignment with local business leaders. Next up was Sanders Scholten, Centocor, who covered the business case for their Pan-European Medical Information center. Their impressive service now supports Schering-Plough personnel (who market remicade for Centocor) in Europe (including CEE), China & Hong Kong, South Africa and Israel. The MI team speak 5 languages between them. Just one of the challenges Sanders faces is scheduling to ensure adequate language cover for customers daily. Rostering work is a common nightmare for many MI managers, which Sanders likened to trying to solve the Rubik’s cube. Refreshing to hear how other managers struggle with work rosters!

Setting up call centres in Europe as a commercial proposition was covered by Bob Winslow, Quintiles. With an impressive pedigree founded on experience in drug information centres and industry (gsk), Bob made it all seem so easy. First make sense of EU regulations (which focus on advertising rather medical information services), then recruit multi-lingual people with medical information and pharmacovigilance skills (go to Switzerland where most people have at least 3 languages) and lastly negotiate the complex national data privacy and protection laws. Easy when you know how! Seriously, Bob gave an fascinating & inspiring presentation on how companies can outsource medical information to a CRO with confidence.

Global collaborations were also covered. Three speakers from different organisations explained the different approaches, showing one solution does not suit everyone. Organisation infrastructure, culture and capability affect choice. Yveslise Schwartz-Dizier, MerckSerono, outlined their staged approach to developing a global group. If an affiliate cannot answer an question as a global response is not available, off label information is needed or the question relates to a complex situation, they contact the global group in Basle. This way tight control is kept over the markets on sensitive issues and ensures compliance and consistency.

Dan Kates, Gilead, explained about the creation of their international department in Uxbridge UK and its relationship with the affiliates and the main corporation in California. Like many regional or global groups, drivers for setting up the group included information inconsistency, efficiency and compliance issues. Like many of the global groups, dealing with second line enquiries is not the sole responsibility. Providing leadership through training, creating and maintaining validated systems, developing SOPS and working practices are critical functions.

Technology as an enabling tool was widely covered in the session chaired by Liz Clark, Norgine. Diane Torrance, Johnson & Johnson, comprehensively covered the challenges of implementing IT solutions for global MI. Eloquently speaking about issues such as moving from Word documents to XML authoring, she gave us sufficient detail yet also painted a broad picture of their infrastructure.

Charlotte Wormleighton, AstraZeneca, gave us her personal perspective on the tools used in AZ to support her global team and the wider company. Some nice touches included maintaining a product overview database for non-medical staff, so anyone from secretaries to financial directors can find out a bit more about the products AZ sell. She showed us QUEST, their global platform for Q&As. Taking neat features from websites like Amazon, searching for information almost seemed like fun! She also took the brave step of killing off the global medical information website. It was far too costly to maintain and AZ was better served by using collaborative tools like e-room. For me it was a pleasure to see how much Charlotte had achieved since my AZ days.

Alicia Gervais-Rios, Lilly Spain, & Ioana Simona Nitu, Lilly Romania embodied cross border co-operation by presenting together. Implementing the Lilly website for healthcare professionals (HCP) involved a cross-functional, cross-border team. Newly launched within some EU affiliates, HCPs can use the website to do keyword searches to find information, including off-label data.

The last session, chaired by Aaron Cockell, Pfizer UK, took the theme of partnerships. David Erskine, Acting Director for the London & South East Regional Medicines Information Service (part of UKMi) warned us of “Weapons of Mass Instruction in the War against Error”. Continuing the theme, he used the now famous quote from Donald Rumsfield about knows and unknowns to parallel the work UKMi staff cover. The things we know we know = EBM, things we know we don’t know = enquiries and the thing we don’t know that we don’t know = educating the uneducated. David talked about areas where the Pharma industry and UKMi could collaborate. The numbers of Q&As written by UKMi for the NHS are few compared with the extensive range Q&As on specific medicines held and maintained by pharma. Pharmline, a pharmaceutical database run by UKMi is also crying out for sponsirship. David also would like consistency from compaies about provision of off label information to specific quesries. Some companies do, some don’t – why not? He also talked about the impressive UKMI training workbook & accompanying computer based training programme MiCal used to train over 2500 NHS pharmacists. Want to know more? Check out www.ukmi.nhs.uk. or www.nelm.nhs.uk

Last but no means least was Hannah Gordon from Pfizer UK. Hannah only joined Medical Information straght from university less than 2 years ago. For someone so young, she embodied the future of our profession. Clearly presented information, with the right balance between detail and overview, she spoke eloquently about putting the customer at the heart of medical information, for the benefit of the customer, the company and indirectly for our industry. All companies like to believe they are customer focused and Hannah gave us some tips about embedding that focus, from employee work shadowing to monthly product reports. What do you call yours? Monthly Enquiry Report? Pfizer call them Customer Insight Resports. Yet another demonstration of customer focus – this time aligning to marketing minds.

So who attended? The audience were mainly from European countries, with about 10 from the US and one person from Asia. Although there were about 25 people from the UK out of the 100 people attending, many of these had European or Global responsibilities. Many people had years of experience in medical information or communications, with just a few people newly joined.

Did the programme satisfy these broad needs? You bet! It was a fantastic opportunity to hear from all aspects of medical information; technology, organisational models, regulatory aspects, communicating with patients and best practice.

Was anything missing? Not really but there were plenty of suggestions for the programme at the next Medical Information and Communications conference.

As the conference was a great success, the next one will be held in Ljubljana, Slovenia in October 2008 (during week 20-24) as part of the Clinical Forum event.