The recent DIA US Medical Communications conference in Hilton Head Island took the changes over the past 20 years as a theme. Or in some cases, how it hasn’t really changed!

Chuck Depew, now in Global Regulatory Affairs, gsk set the scene by looking back over the last 20 years. A group of like-minded people working in medical/drug/product information for Boroughs-Welcome and Glaxo Inc at Research Triangle Park, North Carolina decided to get together to share ideas, discuss their responsibilities, people and service dimensions. It went so well, DIA was used as the vehicle to start up the annual workshop. The rest is history. As someone who was actually at the first meeting in Charleston and has lived through those years, it was a familiar story for me. However Chuck added landmarks to the landscape of medical communications, giving it perspective and context. One amusing anecdote was why people moved into working in medical information;
Reps – no more doctors offices and receptionists
Chemists – get me out of the lab!
Pharmacists – no more weekends in the shop
Pharm. D. – I’m from academia and I know all the answers
Nurses – no more nights
Physician – I think that’s one of my departments

The conference programme from 1989 was very similar to 2009. It looked at the services provided, legal aspects, technology, recruitment and career advancement. One big difference was the vision of what we wanted technology to deliver was much greater than its capabilities at that time. I was very fortunate to have worked in the research arm of Glaxo (now gsk) in 1983 where I had one of the early p.c.s (a HP150 with a touch screen, no less), used email to communicate with other parts of the organisation and used online databases via an form of internet (anyone remember PSS Packet Switching Service?). My move to the UK subsidiary of a large US multinational company was a regressive step by at least 10 years technology wise. Only secretaries used computer terminals that could only do word processing. It was a frustrating 5 years before I got a computer on my desk.

The mergers and acquisitions in the late nineties drove best practice. Companies had to re-examine their processes and services when consolidating 2 or more departments. The phrase

plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

ran through my mind the more I listened. However one big change was the outsourcing of contact centres. When Chuck asked how many people today answer phone calls from customers, very few hands (out of 250+) were raised.

Although the topics that intrigue and challenge us remain broadly the same, the political, economic and regulatory environment is more complex and the solutions differ, driven by technological advances and the need to show effectiveness and efficiencies. Chuck closed by reflecting on why medical communications work so well. We are an inclusive community who love to share ideas and our learnings. We recycle topics and find new ideas to meet old challenges. Lastly, it’s a great career to stay in and develop or to springboard onto something different.