The idea of moving scientific and medical conversation online is not a new concept. Indeed, when the online world began to open to a broader swath of people in the early 1990s, one of the first uses brought people together around various health topics.

But in the new COVID-19 era, consuming scientific and medical data virtually is not a novelty. It’s not even one of many options for accessing information: it’s become the only way. With major medical congresses, such as ASCO 2020, going completely virtual, it’s critical that we re-think not only the end of the process – the presentation or the publication – but indeed the entire span of how we think and talk about research.

It means understanding usability, optimizing for data-sharing, and analyzing each decision and each channel to make sure that the right stakeholders are getting the right information.

Planning for the Future Now

The best way to ensure virtual dissemination of data is to plan from the beginning!

During the publication planning process, we should incorporate virtual distribution into the plan for seminal data releases as they are developed for both congress presentations and more finalized manuscripts.

A successful publication plan will consider secondary congresses with unique, specialized audiences to maximize the reach of the data to all interested clinician types, payers, and patients. Important considerations can include how the timelines for development may be impacted, what additional resources (graphic design, digital expertise, IT) may be needed, and which key stakeholders may need to provide feedback.

Virtual—What Does it Mean?

The concept of virtual can mean a lot of things to a lot of different folks, so it’s critical not to use the word as shorthand or stay at a superficial level. The same goes for “digital.” Some people associate those concepts with social media while others might think of any electronic communication as falling into those buckets.

Virtual data dissemination, done right, is about multiple channels, many with significant overlap. For every effort, we need to specify what those channels might be,  including webinars, social media, email, PDFs, websites (eg, company, congress, database), pre-print libraries, for starters. And we need to be specific about how we can use them to highlight the right virtual data, at the right time, to the right audience.

Speaking of the right audience, it is important to think about how doctors, patients, and pharma companies are viewing and consuming virtual data, with the days of only abstracts, congress booths, congress posters/presentations, and manuscripts a bygone era.  So, how can we leverage virtual dissemination of data to extend the reach and life of these traditional channels, especially in the new era of virtual congresses?

  • Our Old Friend, the QR Code! In years past, QR codes in the corner of a poster would take the view to a website or link to the poster PDF. That, in the virtual and digital world, was always redundant and the subject of some mockery. But in the new normal, there is potential here. What if scanning our QR codes linked us out to a mini, poster-specific website that included more interactive content, such as a podcast author narration of the poster, a video abstract, an interactive/animated mechanism of action, a graphical abstract, an infographic, a lay summary, and an expert video commentary? Couple the virtual extenders with responsive web design, and then, the data can be viewed properly on a myriad of different devices!
  • Sharing is Caring. Another important consideration for virtual data dissemination is how the data will be shared through different channels after its initial release. By its very nature, virtual data are more enduring once shared. Take the graphical abstract mentioned above—we should consider how we optimize it for shareability across multiple platforms (e.g., email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok, YouTube) wherever we and our audiences my share it.
  • Analytics to Measure … With extension of data from the traditional formats into the virtual realm, we can embrace the expansion of our metrics to include so much more than a journal impact factor! Moving into the virtual space allows us measure things, such as number of site hits, shares, time spent viewing data, location of viewer, and device type.
  • … And Analytics to Manage. Of course, having metrics for metrics sake doesn’t really help anyone. Deriving insights from these metrics with appropriate healthcare analytics is key to understanding how virtual data dissemination can be optimized for the future. For example, where are the data being shared (e.g., platform), how are the data being shared over time (e.g., just around a congress), and what parts of the data are being viewed and for how long (e.g., survival vs safety) can continually inform how to best optimize virtual data dissemination.

So while COVID-19 may be forcing us to adapt, dissemination through virtual channels can help maximize the reach and impact of medical and scientific data.


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