Rebecca Vermeulen, Director Six Sigma, Lilly, opened the 19th DIA Medical Communications meeting here in Orlando to an audience of over 360 people. A poll of the audience revealed that most people had a medical information role, with about 1/3 of the audience working in contact centers (sic). So what is the main aim? Sharing, learning and growing together.

Like previous DIA Med Comms meetings, this one did not disappoint. The format has changed slightly to increase the number of concurrent breakout sessions (which forces you to prioritise what you want to attend) and more leadership topics have been included.

The opening session was on health literacy. Dr Sunil Kripalani exaplined that the US (like Europe) has a significant population (36%) that cannot understand basic instructions beyond pretest diagnostic directions or simple patient information (to reading age of 11yrs). How do we address patient information to this disenfranchised population? Using a phrase like “Do you understand?” is less effective than asking the patient to reflect back what they do understand…. but this all takes valuable doctor consulting time. He demonstrated an alternative way of showing patients their prescribing schedule using pictures – check out www.picturerxcard.com.

We have increasing complex healthcare environments, with more medicines on the markets, an aging population and direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising that can confuse patients whilst trying to inform them. As we all know, package inserts and information leaflets do not fully address these issues. Nancy Smith from the FDA CDER section discussed various partnerships that the FDA have developed to address the fundamental issue of explaining the benefit-risk equation. One such initiative involves educating 12-13year olds through a website linked to school programmes – “Medicines in my home” (Google it to check out the site). This is the ideal group to target as they are starting to self-medicate using OTC products (the website is targeted to OTC medications), they may be responsible for looking after younger siblings after school and they often have sleepovers with friends so need to know how to use medicines responsibly. Start them young!

Sharon Brigner, PhRMA (the US industry association) covered the health literacy initiatives they have developed to put patient safety at the heart of all that they do. They have been partnering with non-traditional organisations, e.g. with law enforcement officers to educate children not to share their medication with others, since the 2nd most common abused drugs are prescription medicines.

Grant Winter, Manhattan Bureau, spoke , as an ex-journalist and commentator, about health information for patients through the media/internet streams. For example, his Motorola cell phone has pre-programmed set ups for him to enter emergency contact details including his medication. As video production costs have fallen and channels like YouTube have gained popularity, it has created opportunities to be able to produce and publish good targeted, detailed information on medications. However, there is also bad press too – trying running a search for your brand on YouTube (but maybe not on your work computer – it may be against company policy!) and check out what is out there. You may be suprised. Tips from the expert: use real patients and real doctors to make any educational videos – actors are not as good or as realistic as the real thing. There were some great quotes (some of which are unpublishable!) but the best/sickest (depending on your view) was “statistics are like prisoners of war, if you torture them long enough, they will give you what you want”.

The audience then broke into 3 groups to discuss best practice – HCPs, Patient Advocacy and lastly Internet & Media. I joined the later session which was full of anecdotes, rather than having formal presentations. Grant showed a great video aimed at a disease with a small population, Sjogren’s syndrome (check it out at www.lacrisert.com). This was an example of how patients suffering from low incidence diseases can be helped without huge production costs. Great if you’re explaining about devices. If your company decides to put similar material on YouTube, lock out the comments option to prevent possibility of AEs being reported by unsubstantiated sources. However you need patient insight and know how patients behave and live their lives to think creatively about how you can reach them. For example, oncology patients on chemotherapy spend long periods during their infusion sessions. Their boredom can be relieved by showing DVDs on their diseases and detailed treatment information (personally, I’d rather watch “House”). More tips – PubMed is available for handheld PDAs. Reps are showing doctors lectures by Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) on iPods. The iPhone got lots of mentions as an opportunity to do so much more for getting patient information out there. If you are translating materials from English to other languages, have a physician do it to ensure that the correct synonym is used.

And the conclusions? To quote Nancy Hildebrand, Lilly US, when it comes to providing information to healthcare professionals, we rock! But there is a disconnect when we communicate with patients – do our educational programmes and patient materials have consistency? Are we writing materials in the right way, with the right language and cultural tones?