Category Archives: Blog

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Maximizing pharmaceutical operations: the power of organisational insights and proactive communication

I hope you are enjoying the summer and managing to hide away from the heat. I am writing this on a blissfully cold and rainy day. 

Today’s blog topics:

– The value of proactive communication
– Strategic pharmaceutical operations set-up considerations
– From data to insights: unleashing business potential
– If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it

The value of proactive communication

I recently spent time with two siblings, aged eight and twelve.

In one conversation the younger one told me “When I was born, my sister was jealous. She was an only child up until then and as I was a baby, my mum gave me a lot of attention.” His sister listened patiently. He continued “My sister worried that I was more important than her, the new favourite child. However, it was just because I was a baby that my mum had to give me more attention. Nowadays, I still get more support, as I can’t do everything for myself yet, but there is no favourite child in our family.”

I was amazed by how matter-of-fact he was and by how his sister listened in a way that suggested the narrative was one they both agree on. I was impressed that the children’s parents had tackled this difficult topic head-on in a way that made sense to the children.

So why am I sharing this here? Because it illustrates that when we know that an issue will arise and that there is no hiding from it, it is easier to tackle it pro-actively, this is true in business and at home.

Key take-away: Address challenges early, shape the narrative, address concerns, and manage emotions.

Strategic pharmaceutical operations set-up considerations

Some topics come up regularly when I am working with organisations on their set-up. I considered sharing a checklist for you to use while running projects. Lists don’t make for great reading, so instead I have gone with a high level summary. If you think the checklist would be helpful, please drop me a line.

Considerations for pharma operations set-up planning:

1) Is the organisation I work for centralised or decentralised? Does my organisation have a strong culture of how to approach projects? How does this influence the type of set-up that makes sense from a global, regional, and local point of view? What pre-existing systems, structures and teams do we need to respect?

2) What is the context we are working in considering: products, indications, budgets, launch timelines and market size? How does this influence how we will engage with customers, our internal headcount, and rollout timelines? Where will we focus our activities? What activities, channels, materials, events, conferences, trials are necessary/make sense and what are the codes and regulations governing these in different geographies?

3) What systems do we have, what systems do we need? How will we approach data husbandry, analytics and GDPR?

Large companies have experts on all the above topics, most smaller companies do not. A colleague, who works for a small biotech company recommends “Don’t sweat the small stuff, focus your energies, identify gaps and hire accordingly.”

Key take-away: A gap analysis before you start plus a detailed check list and realistic timelines will ensure your setup planning is straightforward.

From Data to Insights: Unleashing Business Potential

Companies collect vast amounts of information on customer interactions, website visits, call centre metrics, and more. While this data is essential for daily operations and for monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs), its real value lies in generating actionable insights for future strategies.

Asking yourself the following four questions can help you unlock the potential in your data:

1) Relevant Information vs. Easy Data Collection:  Does the data we collect align with strategic objectives or is it primarily easily accessible information? If not, what data are we missing?

2) Unveiling Insights: Can we extract additional meaningful insights by analysing the data for patterns, trends, and correlations, to provide a deeper understanding of operations and customer behaviours?

3) Enriching Data Sets: What additional data from other sources across the organisation can we/should we explore to gain a more comprehensive view?

4) Tailored Key Performance Indicators: Would it make sense to assess the KPIs we currently use relative to the desired outcomes to ensure they are fit for purpose and if necessary, to adapt them?

Generating actionable insights from data involves investing in advanced analytics and expert interpretation, empowering businesses to make informed decisions for future growth and innovation.

Key take-away: Data collection is the foundation, but insights derived from data pave the way to success. By asking the right questions, exploring relevant information, and adapting KPIs, companies can unleash the power of data and drive their businesses to new heights.

If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it

This quote is usually attributed to management consultant Peter Drucker, and with 3.5 million hits in google, it is easy to see why. However, according to a post entitled “Measurement Myopia” on the website of Drucker institute Peter Drucker never said it.

With a science background and a medical degree that involved taking many multiple choice tests, where absolute statements were almost always incorrect, my instinctive reaction to absolute statements is a sense of unease.

There are things that are hard to measure and manage (e.g. systemic bias), some that are easy to measure and hard to manage (e.g. life expectancy trends in the UK) , and some that are easy to measure and manage (e.g. phone response times in a call center) that may be less important to your business in the grand scheme of things than others.

In a Guardian article from Feb 10th 2008 entitled “the rule is simple, be careful what you measure” management editor Simon Caulkin, wrote “’What gets measured gets managed – even when it’s pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organisation to do so”

He proposed two problems with “if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it”:

1)The implication that management is only about measuring the visible figures

2)The easy to measure drives out the hard (e.g. phone response time measuring versus managing systemic bias)

In the article Simon Caulkin also observed “what is measured, matters, because measures set up incentives that drive people’s behaviour. And woe to the organisation when that behaviour is at odds with its purpose”.

I experienced this first hand many years ago when I missed out on a part of an incentive bonus because I chose not to perform an activity that no longer made business sense, based on the evolution of the product during the calendar year, instead doing other activities that did make sense. At performance review time my manager agreed with me in principle saying, “I agree, it didn’t make any sense for the business, so your decision was sound, but it was one of your targets, you didn’t let me know ahead of time and this is just how the system works”. Which was fair enough from a management perspective, but it also illustrates the importance of being clear on what behaviours you are fostering with your measurement and incentive system. A paper that is frequently cited in this context is V.F. Ridgway’s “Dysfunctional consequences of performance measurements.”

Key take-aways: 1) Peter Drucker never said, “if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it” 2) Not every popular statement is correct 3) Many things are hard to measure but still need managing 4) Just because you can measure something, doesn’t mean you should 4) What is measured matters, because measures set up incentives that drive people’s behaviour.

I hope my blog posts provide you with useful insights and I look forward to hearing your thoughts. If you have a challenging project or personal challenge where an external perspective or potentially team or individual coaching might help, please contact me for an informal and confidential chat.

Best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer MD

Photo credit: Annie Spratt @ Unsplash

Has AI become negative? And if so, is this a problem?

It is a warm, sunny and busy July. I spent today briefly exploring the sense of sin in cross-cultural perspective, reflecting on archetypes, discussing dream cycles, planting three different types of shiso, and planning a workshop for the upcoming DIA meeting in Belgium. In between I wondered about good and bad AI and started to allow myself some happy thoughts about the upcoming summer holidays. My mind is in a happy place full of possibility.

Today’s blog topics:

– Pharma communications and navigating translations
– Content management strategies to keep you sane
– Has AI become more negative? Thinking in the information age
– Unheard harmonies – joy and difference

Any company involved in international business faces the translation challenge at some point. For pharmaceutical companies who interact with patients, health care professionals, patient advocate groups etc. this is a particular challenge because beyond the expense of maintaining documents in many different languages, there is also the challenge of version control.

What to consider as you approach translations?

  • Content type defines translation imperatives: some must be provided in local language, some may have to be provided in local language, some falls into a discretionary category.
  • The market: is your product prescribed by international experts or predominantly by local GPs?
  • Specific Regulations: are there regulations specific to the pharmaceutical industry that address language?
  • General regulations: are there laws that talk about language in the general health care space? For example, the Finish health care act section 6 which addresses patient care and patient rights concerning the language of care provision.
  • Cultural context: How is content provision in English perceived? Does the entire document need to be in local language or is a mixed approach, cover letter in local language, standard response in English acceptable?
  • Diversity and Language: the written and spoken word, vocabulary and nuance varies between countries and regions. This is true for English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German to mention some of the more widely spoken languages.
  • Translation approach: case by case? Or all documents? Or only frequently used documents?
  • Currency: how do you ensure all child documents are current?

Key take-away: Approach document translation with caution and assess all variables before committing to an approach.

Pharma content management strategies to keep you sane

Historically departments generated content independently of one another. However, this approach leads to both inconsistencies and an incredible workload full of “busy work”. As teams do more with less and share more and more content across different channels, reducing reduplication of effort will help you stay sane.

Some suggestions:

  • Identify
    • the type of content you use now
    • the type of content you will need in the future
    • the format of the content and channels
    • which teams require which type of content
    • which content can be used across teams
    • required core content and source documents
  • Agree
    • harmonised formats/templates – with without colours and branding etc. as appropriate
    • a version control approach and naming convention
    • the content lifecycle (review, approval, sign-off, use, retirement and archiving process)
    • access policy
  • Implement
    • a master data management approach (source data is stored in a single location and used from there)
    • identified data owner(s)
    • a global data governance approach
  • Consider
    • a concatenation approach to content/document generation
    • a global approach to content generation
  • Involve
    • Key stakeholders from business and IT early
  • Research
    • Systems that will scale and easily integrate with your current system architecture

Key take-away: Many teams use very similar content, having a harmonised approach will accelerate and facilitate your work. The use of AI is further down the road than you might imagine.

Has AI become more negative? Thinking in the information age

Two weeks ago, I was at a conference. A presenter was waxing lyrical about the powers of ChatGPT. He shared a graph by Rita McGrath, professor at Colombia Business School that was published in the Harvard Business Review in an article entitled “the pace of technology is speeding up”. The original graph title was: “Consumption spreads faster today” and the text read “innovations introduced more recently are being adopted more quickly” You can find the original article and graph here. The title the presenter used on his slide was “good news, humans get faster” my first impulse is to think “yes, faster is better” then I looked at the graph again and asked myself “does this graph show me that humans are faster? And is it good news? If so, why?” I reviewed the initial data

The presenter also shared data from a paper with the title “Did AI get more negative recently”. In brief, the paper assesses the stance of authors performing research in the Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning Fields. He shared the information that negative publications are cited more frequently than positive publications, and his opinion that this could bias the general public against AI and that this is a worrying development, because in his estimation AI is good.

Some thoughts from me 1) a negative stance towards a certain topic doesn’t mean the author is wrong 2) the publication focuses on scientific literature, which is not in the public domain, hence the public is unlikely to be exposed it 3) the fact that negative publications in the data set that was analyzed are cited more frequently than positive publications is neither good nor bad, just interesting.

In the cited publication the authors point out that there are many reasons why negative publications in this field receive more citations, they also proffer a hypothesis that the increase in critical publications in the Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing field in recent years may be a natural response to the hype and a peak of positivity in 2010 when “people started to challenge the validity of some of the claims, when issues of adversarial robustness and reproducibility became apparent and people began to question evaluation frameworks” You can find the peer reviewed article on the Royal Society Open Science website.

The reason I am sharing the above is that with the internet graphs are easy to find, and copy, good quotes are “likeable” and cursed with little patience and less time it is easy to be misled by a good story. Humans like to take data and make it fit their belief system. And this is then shared over and over. Every day I read stories that sound great but that are not backed up by the references that are provided.

Key take-aways: 1) Think for yourself, check the source documents, and reach your own conclusions before sharing, liking, or believing. 2) If it is all black or all white it is unlikely to be true.

Harmonies unheard – joy and difference

I met a woman on the street the other day. We chatted for a while. Her speech pattern was unusual. She asked me to enunciate clearly, to speak slowly and to face her as I spoke. Then she told me that she had been born deaf.

She told me how important music is to her, that she regularly goes to classical concerts and that she especially loves opera. She described the way she experiences music; the vibrations and the unbridled joy music elicits in her.

As I cycled away, I had a big smile on my face, her pleasure was infectious. I was reminded that the world is a big place, that humans experience the world in a myriad way and instead of putting myself in someone else’s shoes it’s much nicer to let them tell me about their world.

Key take-away: difference is all around us and the best way to understand another person is to listen to them with interest and an open mind and heart.

I hope my blog provides you with useful insights and I look forward to hearing your thoughts. If you have a challenging project in the realm of medical, digital, systems, analytics, channels etc. or you are navigating a team or personal challenge contact me for an informal chat and to see how I can help.

Best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo Credit: Markus Winkler @unsplash

How to navigate the diversity of the European market

I have just got back from taking part in two panel discussions in Geneva, one on women in pharma and one that I led on digital islands. Balance is elusive and everyone seems to struggle with not enough diversity or too much, so today I write about diversity in teams, systems and geographies.

Today’s blog topics:

– Panel discussion highlights – inclusion, equity and women in pharma
– Company culture and fit
– Panel discussion digital islands – the one thing you need to know to avoid them
– Europe – the diversity challenge

    Panel discussion highlights – inclusion, equity and women in pharma

    Gender, colour, and age are still a more accurate predictor of career success than talent. However, this looks to be changing. Our audience at the panel discussion on inclusion, equity and women at the Connect in Pharma event in Geneva was a mix of ages, genders, and nationalities. There were many people. We had many questions. And the organisers told us that the session was one of the highlights of the conference.

    Fellow speakers included Frauke Hangen, Cluster Management Biotechnology Germany, Claire Thompson, CEO Agility life sciences, UK, Maria Cudeiro GM Croma-Pharma, Spain. I believe a diverse group is best placed to drive diversity and so we invited audience volunteers Daniel Kägi, Managing Director BCG, René Bujard, Human Resources Director Galderma, and Ope Salau, Senior clinical lead hospital pharmacist to join us.

    My thoughts on inclusion, equity, women in pharma and diversity

    • Diversity and inclusion don’t happen organically. The retention/advancement of a specific group cannot be driven by a single intervention but requires orchestrated tailored effort.
    • Leading a diverse team is not easy, but done well it will provide a better output.
    • Nationality, socialization, religion, the legal environment, and culture influence outcomes. Take this into account when reading a report on diversity and inclusion. Conclusions are not always transferable.
    • A zero-tolerance policy towards discrimination in the workplace only has value if there are consequences
    • Productivity is not measured in hours – René shared the example of an employee who asked to reduce her hours to spend time with her child. The company offered her the option to work flexibly while maintaining her income.

    Key take-away: Be clear on the key drivers for diversity and inclusion, have a business case and apply meaningful metrics. Just because you can measure something doesn’t mean it has relevance.

    Company Culture and fit

    Cultural fit and equal opportunities have been on my mind since school when a teacher only chose boys to answer his questions. I tested my hypothesis that this behaviour was not random by sitting at the front of the classroom and putting my hand up before anyone else could. I cannot recall him ever selecting a girl to answer his questions even after I shared my observation with him. Lessons this could have taught me, although at the time I could not have acted on them:

    • You cannot change a system from the bottom up
    • If you have mentioned an issue and there is no change leave
    • Find a company, society, environment that values your unique talents rather than trying to fit somewhere that does not

    Key take-away: to find a great job fit know your value and know your values.

    Panel discussion digital islands – the one thing you need to know to avoid them

    Peter Shone, Iethico, Wolfgang Schwerdt, Data Science System architect on a mission to the ICRC and Mathias Leddin, Principle Data Scientist at Roche, joined me for a panel discussion on digital islands. This is generally a huge topic in pharma. Data analytics is big, access to data is big, but data is often marooned and inaccessible.

    In companies that predate the computer age digital islands evolved naturally, as departments moved from paper to system-based data storage without a comprehensive plan. In startup companies, digital islands evolve, often because the focus is on data generation rather than on data husbandry and while each biotech startup has scientists, commercial experts, and access to clinical trial experts, they typically do not have database experts or business intelligence experts on hand.

    There are many ways to solve the challenge of marooned data, I am happy to discuss this with you, it is one of my favourite topics, but according to my expert panelists there is only one way to avoid the situation in the first place: having a holistic strategy across your company and understanding and applying ontology and taxonomy when categorizing your data.

    Key take-away: The more time you invest in a data strategy early on the less effort and suffering you will experience later.

    Europe – the diversity challenge

    Biotech startups that expand outside their home market, often the US, frequently have questions regarding the complexity that is the rest of the world. Below is a high-level celebration of some of the complexity that Europe has to offer companies looking to establish a market presence.

    Computer systems: how to set up systems across multiple territories and multiple languages.

    Content generation: ideally companies like to have a single content engine that generates content for global use. Different labels, different customer expectations and different legal systems and legal habits mean that absent understanding of ex-US markets this desire can be thwarted.

    Customer engagement 1: culture influences how to engage customers in different markets. Understanding culture is critical to good customer engagement. Working with regional and local teams to give them the flexibility they need to be effective on the ground, while being true to the company’s guidelines is critical for success.

    Customer engagement 2: Channels: the channels that work well in France, may not work well in Japan, in the US or in South Korea. Markets have many similarities but also may differences. If you want to know how to reach your customer, you need to understand how people typically engage.

    Data management: relevance of the general data protection regulation (GDPR) for data storage, data exchange across territories etc.

    Healthcare systems: The world has a wonderful range of healthcare systems, understanding how they work to ensure patients are diagnosed and have access to treatment is a complex challenge.

    Industry association codes of practice: govern Transfers of Value, promotion of prescription only medicines and interactions between members and healthcare professionals, healthcare organisations and patient organisations. While the topics are broadly comparable, and in some cases country codes align very closely with the International and European Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA and EFPIA) codes, other codes are much more comprehensive and broader in scope such as the Association of the British Pharmaceutical industry (ABPI) code.

    Language: English is widely used in business. Identifying when to use English, when not to use English, and understanding what the regulations are around language when engaging with different customers is generally a struggle for teams that are used to a bi-lingual market. Guidance exists if you know where to look.

    Legislation: while there are commonalities, there are also differences from market to market.

    Pricing: pricing considerations influencing launch sequence.

    Regulatory authorities: US has the FDA; Europe has the European regulatory agency (EMA), but each European member state also has its own regulatory authority. Centralised submissions for medicines that will be available across Europe are submitted to EMA. However, medicines that will be authorised only in a single market are authorised by the national competent authority of the relevant member state.

    Sunshine act and the transfer of value: Transfer of value is typically captured ex-US. How this is done varies widely from market to market and company to company.

    These are many more, if I missed some of your favourite ones please drop me a line. If you wanted to add your thoughts, please drop me a line!

    Key takeaway: Be prepared when venturing into new geographies and consider local guides.

    I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if you have a challenging project, are working through a team or personal challenge and would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

    Best wishes

    Isabelle C. Widmer

    Panel Discussion at Connect in Pharma June 14th Geneva with Frauke Hangen, René Bujard, Ope Salau, Daniel Kägi, Maria Cudeiro and Claire Thompson

    Doing now what patients need now

    Summer is here. The weather is wonderful. I am off to Geneva to the Connect in Pharma conference this week, participating in a panel on women in pharma and hosting a panel on managing digital islands in a world that is obsessed with data analytics.

    Today’s blog topics:

    – Doing now what patients need now
    – Reorganisation survival guide
    – Experience and value for money
    – The art of everything; tailored content and customer engagement

    Doing now what patients need now

    Suz Schrandt, patient advocate, once shared the following sentiment with me “companies advertise the benefits of their product by showing patients doing extreme sports. However, what I really care about, is whether I can button my trousers”. You can read the full interview here:

    In many areas we have made huge progress. It is widely acknowledged that individuals who live with an illness are best placed to identify what constitutes a meaningful treatment outcome. Consequently, including patients in designing clinical trials is now the gold standard.

    In the area of access to relevant medical information patients face a similar challenge. The information they seek on the medicines they are prescribed may vary from the information doctors consider relevant or indeed have access to. The pharmaceutical industry, well placed as it is to answer medical information enquiries, is in most countries hesitant to engage in conversations with patients, beyond limited topics, for a number of reasons. That said, there are also companies, who have started co-developing standard response documents with patients and relatives in certain topic areas, such as orphan pediatric disease, having identified the high patient need.

    Clients I have worked with have mentioned their frustration that they cannot provide meaningful answers to patients and instead have to refer them back to their doctors, who, where very specific product related questions are concerned, often do not have access to the knowledge, nor time to research an answer.

    Many of my friends and family members are currently patients. They have expressed frustration that the product related answers they seek are not readily available from their health care professionals. And to make things worse online searches yield confusing results, especially when the risk of side effects, and managing potential side effects, is in focus.

    Hopefully, the realisation that the industry, as the product expert can provide meaningful support in this situation, will take root and better ways to help patients to manage their concerns will be found.

    Key reminder: If the patient is at the centre, then pharmaceutical industry responses to patient questions need to go beyond “thanks for calling us, please contact your doctor”.

    Reorganisation survival guide

    In recent times many friends, acquaintances and clients have gone through reorganisations that have impacted them directly or indirectly. Whether individuals lose their jobs, have to make team members redundant, or witness friends leaving, the experience is usually traumatic. As reorganisations are common, I wanted to share ideas on managing associated challenges:

    1. Prioritise your health: mental and physical. Eat well, get enough sleep, stay active.
    2. Know the rules: knowing relevant company and local labour laws is always useful.
    3. Network: A strong network is invaluable in times of pressure.
    4. Records: Document key contributions and any other important occurrences.
    5. Reference letters: when your managers change ask for a reference letter before they leave. Or alternately, have a final performance review with them and document it, you never know when you will need it.
    6. Wait: if your worst fears come true, don’t make any rash decisions about next steps.
    7. If job seeking: Try to stay positive, focus on maintaining your health, explore the market, work on your CV and take any additional training courses you can. Most companies support their employees to find new jobs in this situation.

    Key takeaway: Look after yourself and the rest will follow.

    Experience and value for money

    I recently went away for a cycling weekend. I stopped work at four pm, planning to mount the bike rack in ten minutes and then to be on my way well before five. Instead, it took me over an hour to mount the rack, after various phone calls and perusing instruction manuals for my car. It is not a complex procedure at all, but I do not do it often.

    It reminded me that when companies roll out IT solutions to users, who use systems rarely, that they will likely tell you the system is unusable, due to their lack of experience. They are telling the truth. This is why it makes sense to give system access to as many people as necessary but as few as possible.

    It also reminded me that companies often let older employees go, preferring to hire younger, cheaper, according to the balance sheet, resources.

    Key take-ways: 1) Great performance depends on experience. 2) There are no short cuts. 3) Hire an expert and save money in the long run.

    The art of everything, tailored content and customer engagement

    On a recent bike ride I listened to Sun Tzu’s “the Art of war” on audible. It was a one hour listen. Unlike most books that cover only a single concept and belabour the point ad nauseum, this book takes little time and contains thoughts that are applicable to most situations in life. Which of course is why it is a classic.

    Thoughts that stayed with me include the general categorisations of situations. As well as the topic of understanding the competition, motivating your teams, providing unified leadership, leading in a way that respects both what is needed by teams and what is in line with expectations of the industry you are in. The importance of considering the market environment you are operating in and being keenly knowledgeable and realistic about your own strengths, weaknesses, resources and goals.

    I have had the book lying around for a long time. Reviewing it now. I realise I would never have read the text; it doesn’t appeal to me at all. However, the audible format makes it accessible, the content was valuable, and I know I will consult it again.

    Key takeaways: 1) Different minds need knowledge provided in different ways. If your content format doesn’t appeal to your audience, they won’t engage with it 2) It’s worth revisiting the books you own but haven’t read 3) Being concise is not easy but generally preferable.

    I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if you have a challenging project, are working through a team or personal challenge and would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

    Best wishes

    Isabelle C. Widmer

    Basel University hospital
    June 2023 Photo Credit: Isabelle Widmer

    AI in healthcare – reflections from regulatory authorities

    It’s a busy period, so many activities, so little time, so much to learn.

    In June I will take part in a panel on Inclusion, equity and women in pharma and lead one on data analytics, digital islands, and AI.

    I’m also working on a paper on social dreaming, running a coaches’ retreat, where we will discuss self-authorisation and taking another training course on constellations, which is a powerful method to help teams and individuals grasp underlying causes that are impacting performance or development.

    Many different topics, but all are close to my heart. It’s a busy year.

    Today’s blog topics:

    – AI in healthcare – thoughts based on texts from EMA and FDA
    – Blueprint for success
    – Accumulating knowledge when time is finite, and knowledge is infinite
    – How to be a celebrity at work

    AI in healthcare – thoughts based on texts from FDA and EMA

    Not a day goes by without an article on the use of ChatGPT and AI in the workplace. My opinion remains what it was. ChatGPT can be useful to accelerate certain work areas, as a title or abstract generator, but it’s only as good as the user, and I find that ChatGPT generated text has a recognisable “muzak-like” quality to it. Like a pocket calculator or a bicycle, it is a tool that can deliver great results when used appropriately.

    The truth is that creativity and thinking cannot be delegated, and that however much we desire that a neutral unbiased “entity” will come along and make our world a better place, that is not set to happen either.

    One thing we need to keep in mind: AI is trained on data sets, there are humans behind the algorithms, there are humans behind the selection of data, there are humans, who identify what is right and wrong, what answers are inappropriate and where users need nudging. Where the topic is technical, this may not be a problem, however where decisions about humans are involved, bias becomes a real risk.

    I recently asked ChatGPT a question on religion, the response I received ended with “it is important to respect the diversity of beliefs and practices around the world and to approach the topic of religion and spirituality with sensitivity and open-mindedness”. This made me stop and think, I asked for some facts, I received a nudge, which will vary, in line with different societal beliefs from AI to AI around the world. I find this prospect frightening. The opinion wasn’t declared as such, it was just fed into the response I received. An article on quotes experts as saying that “ChatGPT and other machine learning models are constantly updating and advancing as their datasets become broader, the technology means being able to catch biases, mistakes, and errors at the cutting edge”. The technology can help us do this, but at the start are the humans who design the AI. AI is not a separate entity, it is not divorced from human error, it is not neutral, unbiased, or infallible. We would do well to remember this.

    Curious to get a sense of what regulators say, I reviewed several documents including a recent discussion paper published in May 2023 by the FDA (1), a study written in June 2022 by the European parliamentary research service (EPRS) Panel for the future of science and technology (2), a publication comparing the non-healthcare specific US algorithmic accountability act of 2022 versus the EU artificial intelligence act and others (3).

    The papers themselves are worth reading, they are referenced below.

    What I took away from my reading, sources are referenced in brackets and text is in italics where directly quoted:

    • Your AI is only as good as your programmers “Systemic human biases often make their way into AI models, including widespread and rooted bias based on sex and gender, race and ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, geographic location, and urban or rural contexts” (2) this poses obvious risks to patients where decisions are automated based on AI.
    • Your AI output is only as good as your dataset: “The most common causes of AI biases in the healthcare sphere are due to biased and imbalanced datasets which may be based on structural bias and discrimination” (2)
    • AI has great potential over humans where we are faced with large datasets: that need analysing or where modelling is required including in drug discovery, target identification, molecule modelling, or to manage quality for example in process design and quality control (1)
    • Standards are not harmonised, but there is more guidance than you might think: Regulatory authorities are working on setting standards; however, the field is evolving fast (3)

    In conclusion “AI tools, even when accurate and robust, are dependent on how human beings use them in practice and how the results they produce are used” (2), don’t believe everything you read.

    Key takeaways: 1) AI is not a silver bullet 2) the field is evolving fast 3) there is more guidance available than you might be aware of

    1. Using artificial intelligence in the development of drug and biological products. FDA Discussion paper and request for feedback May 2023
    2. Artificial intelligence in healthcare Applications, risks, and ethical and societal impacts, Panel for the Future of Science and Technology EPRS | European Parliamentary Research Service June 2022
    3. The US Algorithmic Accountability Act of 2022 vs. The EU Artificial Intelligence Act: what can they learn from each other?

    Blueprint for success

    I used to believe that “more is more” and “faster is faster”. When faced with additional workload I just worked faster. This can be successful, but it is not sustainable and I don’t recommend it. While a planned approach is obviously the best approach, often a demanding workload and timelines seduce teams into building the plane while flying. Sometimes, it is unavoidable, but generally it is not. I meet people almost every day who despite knowing better get seduced into trying to deliver work although they know intuitively that doing so will push them beyond their limits. So as a reminder: “Success depends on stopping before you start and expending energy wisely”

    So, when you are tasked to deliver a project, especially if the deadlines have already passed, here are my recommendations:

    1. Before you go into solution mode. Stop and ask yourself:
      • Is the project within my remit, meaning do I have the authority to deliver it?
      • Do I have bandwidth with current staffing? If not, what do I need? What can my team do? What would I need to delegate? Do I need additional resources/external support?
      • Are the timelines realistic, if not, what needs to happen to make them realistic?
      • Are the timelines fixed – for example, tied into an external deliverable such as a regulatory authority submission, or are they negotiable?
    2. Understand who the key supporters of the project are and the political relevance of the project
      • Whose vision and goals does the project support, what are they and are they congruent with the organisation?
        • If this is not clear it helps to clarify this first
      • Who are the stakeholders?
    3. Revisit timelines, budget, resourcing etc. with your leadership team and propose a plan that is realistic. It is harder to negotiate additional resources once you have started.
    4. Engage external experts judiciously – try to avoid bringing in external teams to work in isolation on aspects of your project. If you do need external support, make sure it is coordinated.

    In summary, approach any problem comprehensively, avoid a scattershot approach and expend energy wisely

    Key take-ways: 1) For painless success in any project always start with your Vision/North star and go from there. 2) Strive for simplicity 3) Healthy teams deliver better products

    Accumulating knowledge when time is finite, and knowledge is infinite

    Time is finite, knowledge is infinite. It’s a challenge and it is frustrating. Every day I identify topics I desire to know more about, and I have realised, that here, as everywhere else, careful planning is everything. The beauty of knowledge is of course that the more you know, the more the shape of the world changes, and the more you can change the shape of your world. This will influence your life, your career trajectory, the possibilities you see, the opportunities you are offered and the beliefs you hold that limit and empower you.

    Knowledge comes from many sources including experience, other people, coworkers, mentors and coaches, and continued education and training courses. Different types of knowledge stem from different sources. A balance approach is the way to go.

    I take the accelerated route to knowledge wherever possible. If there is something I want to learn I hire an expert to teach me, if there are areas I want to improve in, I work with coaches and mentors, if the learning is experiential, I take part in courses and group work and if it’s academic, I study. This last is where I started, but I realised over the years that the fastest route to knowledge is tapping into respected and vetted resources, who can guide me on the journey.

    To free up time for things, I want to learn, I delegate tasks outside my areas of interest to professionals.

    Key-takeaways: 1) Follow your interests, never stop learning, find the fastest route, use vetted resources and teachers where possible 2) Respect that non-academic knowing and knowledge take time to settle and cannot be rushed.

    How to be a celebrity at work

    Virtual collaboration is here to stay, indeed, for many of us it was a reality before COVID. Virtual engagement works particularly well for individuals and teams who have existing relationships, and who have met at least once, and for tasks that are “maintenance” activities, or tie into the type of day-to-day activities, that are performed in markets across the world.

    However, for anything new, such as transformation projects involving the formation of international cross-functional project teams, nothing beats bringing individuals together. The pandemic reminded us that we are physical beings. Face to face meetings accelerate trust building, make creative collaboration easier, help to build a team spirit. In my experience this increases the speed of travel for complex projects by close to 50%. So you also save money.

    When deciding whether a face to face meeting, an offsite meeting or a zoom interaction will provide most value, an article discussed on provides some food for thought: it indicates that scientists are more likely to cite research they experienced by attending a presentation, than talks they most likely missed (link). N.B. The article has not yet been peer reviewed, but I find the data worth sharing regardless.

    The authors reviewed a conference attendee scheduling app noting where conference attendees had meeting conflicts, versus where they did not. Subsequently, the research team assessed if there was a correlation between talks that were presumably attended and citations in later work by the conference attendee scientists.

    The Nature review states: After taking other effects into account, the authors found that, after correcting for various factors, meeting attendees cited liked papers 52% more often when they could see them in person than when they couldn’t. Author Teplitskiy says “That’s pretty sizable”.

    Working off the assumption that this observation is transferable to other professionals, and citations in the scientific world, translate to endorsement in the professional world, this information is worth taking into consideration when you are next making a case for a project or want to seed interest in a group of your peers for a change you’d like to accelerate.

    In our new virtual world, it will be harder to motivate individuals to attend a face-to-face meeting, however, in some circumstances it’s worth trying, hard.

    Key reminder: Technology has its uses, but it’s always worth considering what the meeting is for, what the desired outcomes are and then planning the format accordingly. It is easier to excite people for your projects and to find project champions when you have engaged them face to face.

    I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if you have a challenging project, are working through a team or personal challenge and would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

    Best wishes

    Isabelle C. Widmer

    Text from Barbican exhibition AI more than human
    Exhibit “the Coded Gaze”

    Medical Information – increase visibility by adding value

    We are almost in the middle of the year so in today’s blog I am sharing my tips plus industry best practice examples and senior leader recommendations, to help you improve your day-to-day business practice including attaining better customer insights, adapting your launch planning approach, increasing the visibility of your Medical Information team and advancing your career.

    Today’s blog topics:
    – Beyond surveys – mastering the art of customer insights
    – Launch preparation – harnessing data for market success
    – Medical Information – how one team increased visibility by adding value in a new therapeutic area
    – Managing your career – thoughts from senior leaders in the pharmaceutical industry

    Beyond Surveys –  Mastering the Art of Customer Insights
    Customer centric business practice depends on understanding customer needs. Surveys, interviews and capturing feedback during face-to-face visits can all provide insights, if the information is captured and shared. It is important that you pick the right tool for the job. If you do use surveys, make sure they are designed well. Vague questions lead to vague answers. Some tips:
    General rules

    1. Select the right tool, to garner insights. Do you need interviews, a survey, another approach?
    2. Tailor questions for purpose, design your questions to meet your specific objectives to gain actionable information.

    Regardless of how you engage with your customer, whether it is a conversation, a survey, market research or an advisory board, remember the following: 

    1. Value customers’ time by providing accurate time estimates and expressing gratitude for their participation.
    2. Avoid leading questions
    3. Prioritise open questions e.g., “What was your general experience? What did you like?” over closed questions e.g., “Were you happy with our service?”
    4. Be realistic about how many questions you can fit into a short time slot for conversations/interviews and for electronic surveys with open text fields make sure you don’t limit the number of characters. It’s hard to provide a response when limited by field size.
    5. Permission for follow-up, ask customers if you may contact them for additional information and insights.
    6. Leverage electronic communication, embed surveys into communications that contains the content the customer requested, this will increase participation and reduce the volume of emails your customers receive from you. 

    One benefit of dispensing with electronic surveys altogether was highlighted by a participant at the open microphone session at last year’s DIA meeting. She shared, that the Medical Information team phones customers back to find out how happy they were with the information they received. She explained the rationale for this approach by saying “we already know customers are very happy with the service, and it was hard to learn anything new that will help us improve our content by using surveys, so we started to engage with our customers differently by phoning them to see what they thought of the information they had received.” While the approach involves work, the benefits include differentiated insights into customer expectations and needs, a better understanding of what excellent looks like in scientific communication and the possibility to identify additional topics of interest. In addition, Medical Information team members feel more connected to their customers and learnings are discussed in team meetings.
    Key takeaways: Customer interview and survey approaches are often standardised. For deeper insights you need to tailor your approach.

    Launch Preparation – Harnessing Data for Market Success
    Teams hoping to launch new products successfully must understand the competition, the healthcare system, appetite and access to innovation in potential target markets, HCP knowledge of the disease, treatment paradigms, diagnostic capabilities, and patient demographics and patient journeys in order to tackle pricing and market access considerations, launch timelines and launch sequencing. 
    Where companies have pre-existing relationships with physicians and are already active in a therapeutic area and market, the situation is relatively straightforward. However, companies launching their first product or companies launching in a new therapeutic area, launching the first product of its kind, or the first treatment in an indication where there was previously no treatment, face a truly daunting task.
    Fortunately, information is often available not only from external data sources but also from in-house databases and in-house teams. For example, most companies subscribe to databases that contain information on Key Opinion Leader allegiance, engagement with competitors, patient demographics etc. across all indications and therapeutic areas globally. Unfortunately, commercial and medical teams are often unaware of these data sources and data can be tricky to find especially for individuals who are new to the company.
    Consequently, it is often hard to use resources creatively, beyond their original purpose. However, data is use-agnostic.  For example: a bottle can be used to store liquids, it can also serve as a rolling pin, a paperweight, the shards as wall tile decorations, candle holders etc.  Similarly, databases, are generally subscribed to for one purpose, but the information they contain, can be used to inform projects in many different disciplines across a company.
    So how do you find the data you need?
    First: Check with IT whether you have a data catalogue. Like other indexing systems, a data catalogue will tell you what data is available, what its provenance is, how it is classified and where it is stored. I am unaware of a company that has company-wide data-catalogues, so you may need to be creative. Summarise what data you are looking for and contact the IT leads of various likely departments.
    Second: Identify in-house teams that are specialised in researching, synthesising and presenting scientific data, for example Medical Information teams are excellent at this, and see if you can engage with them to collate the information you need.
    Third: If your company doesn’t have significant expertise in-house, potentially, engage with pharmaceutical industry experts who can help guide you to find different data in your company and outside
    Fourth: Market research has its uses, but use with discretion
    Fifth: When you have identified source data, engage with your IT team, or external tech experts to help you “digest it”
    If you are interested in finding data, data islands and utilising the data in your company efficiently, consider joining me for a panel discussion at Connect in Pharma in Geneva on the 15h of June. I will be joined by Peter Shone, Chief Technical Officer at Iethico and Wolfgang Schwerdt, who is on a mission at the ICRC.

    Key Takeaway: The data you need is likely available in your company if you know where to look. Talk to your IT team and if speed is of the essence, then engage an external expert to help you identify what you need and where to find it.

    Medical Information – How One Team Increased Visibility by Adding Value in a New Therapeutic Area 
    Medical information teams are product experts, engage with customers, and often support legacy products that typically generate significant sales with minimal investment.  In this scenario measuring an ROI, which isn’t typically calculated for Medical Information teams, could be attempted. Unfortunately, stakeholders, who support actively marketed products often don’t know exactly what Medical Information teams do. 
    However, knowledge drives pharmaceutical companies, and Medical Information teams are well placed to provide the business with insights once they know which gaps, they are uniquely positioned to fill.
    At last year’s DIA open microphone session, a participant shared how her team branched out from focusing only on working with external customers to provide value to in-house teams.

    “There was a new clinical study it was a new therapeutic area. Nobody in the company had any experience in this area. So, the medical information team offered to do desk research as we are specialists in this area. We provided a lot of information for our market. We identified KOLs in the market who had experience in the field. Where Medical Affairs team colleagues had specific questions, we would do detailed research to provide support in this area by providing in depth review of the literature and all the databases. Then we summarised everything and provided it to our internal Medical Affairs stakeholders”
    Key-takeaway: Think like an entrepreneur: Understand your strengths, understand what your stakeholders need, offer to help them fill the gaps.

    Managing your Career – Thoughts from Senior Leaders in the Pharmaceutical Industry
    In preparation for a panel discussion on women in pharma, which will take place on June 14th at Connect in Pharma in Geneva, I interviewed several senior leaders in pharmaceutical companies. What I learned is applicable to both men and women.
    First, know your strengths, so you can find an environment that will be a good fit. Follow your inner compass and don’t take a path even if you think it might be great for your CV unless you will enjoy the job. We do our best work when we are in the right place.
    Additional Guidelines for career planning:

    • There are times to accelerate and times to maintain the status quo. For example, if you are a young parent, you are currently having health issues, or you have other things that are stretching you, it may be wise to sit out a promotion.
    • Name inappropriate behaviour immediately. If there is no change, or there is a system-wide tolerance of abuse, leave.
    • Seek out mentors early in your career.
    • Don’t try to do everything yourself, learn how to delegate and to accept that things may not be done how you would have done them.
    • Work in teams and on projects you are passionate about. If you chose an interim job where this doesn’t hold true, then use it as a steppingstone to where you are going.
    • Choose your battles wisely.

    Key takeaways: It is your career, make sure you are driving the bus and avail yourself of any guidance available to you.

    I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. 

    If you would like to discuss a project you are facing from identifying your goals, developing your strategy or mobilising your organisation to deliver, or you want to discover your career trajectory, I am always happy to have an informal, introductory chat to see if I, or someone in my network, can help.

    Best wishes

    Isabelle C. Widmer

    Photo: Engaged
    Isabelle Widmer, Basel 

    Uncertain times and employee mental health

    I hope you are having a wonderful year. 2023 appears to be a year of change. I cannot remember receiving this many company/role change notifications in any other year. This combined with many conversations I have had in recent weeks with employees regarding their work and mental health, plus an imminent new French law on social media, sparked my thinking for today.

    Today’s blog topics:

    – Employee mental health in uncertain times
    – Quiet quitting or conscious disengagement?
    – Leadership lessons from being stuck in an elevator
    – New social media regulations – why industry provided scientific information has a bright future

    Employee Mental Health in Uncertain Times

    Most pharma company employees I have met recently mention burnout in the course of our conversations. This saddens me, but also, as a physician, a coach and someone who is convinced that humans are a company’s most important resource it concerns me. It is a big topic and one that is top of mind for many, so today I wanted to share some thoughts. Many environmental factors can impact employee mental health, some of the more frequent topics mentioned in conversation are listed below:

    1. A feeling of instability and lack of control
    2. A working environment that is not conducive to being productive including for example days where back-to-back meetings are the norm not the exception
    3. Constantly working at maximum capacity but regularly having tasks added on top
    4. The feeling that one is never on top of tasks
    5. Taking on extra work because it needs doing but everyone else in the team is already overwhelmed

    We are in a time of constant upheaval. A recent pandemic, an energy crisis, the cost of living crisis and a general feeling of instability, coupled with unstable work environments are putting employees under huge pressure.

    As companies go through yet another transformation leading to new job descriptions and reporting structures, while letting people go, and expecting employees to figure out new ways of working on top of performing in very demanding jobs, the risk of burnout for employees becomes very real.

    Unfortunately, burnout symptoms manifest slowly over time, so that at risk individuals often don’t realise what is happening until it is too late. In addition, individuals, who are suffering from a burnout, find it hard to identify that they need support and hard to say what type of support they need.

    So what can you do? In the current environment it’s crucial that you monitor yourself, listen to warning messages from your friends and family, and monitor your team for signs of a struggle, and that you address any suspicions you have sensitively. A resource, that might come in handy to help you to get an objective perspective is an anonymous questionnaire by the British Medical Association, developed for doctors, but which will work for other professionals too, which you can access here. There is also an HBR article on suicide prevention in employees, which may be interesting here.

    If you feel your health is at risk, please consider seeing a health care professional. If you feel healthy, yet you are continuously stretched but find yourself still saying yes to additional projects, and you would like to change your approach, an executive coach can help you with this. I am happy to discuss informally whether I can help, or to provide a referral to a trusted colleague of mine.

    Key takeaways: 1) Be aware: many employees are at risk of burnout as they navigate high pressure jobs in constantly changing environments. Be aware for yourself and others and if you suspect you or a teammate is heading into a burnout offer/seek help. 2) Identify and address the root cause: If you find yourself chronically taking on more work than you can manage, “because somebody has to do it,” or working nights/weekends, while feeling overworked, it is worth identifying your motivating behaviours and potentially finding a better way to live.

    Quiet Quitting or Conscious Disengagement?

    I believe the following to be true:

    • Most people want to do a good job
    • When doing a good job appears impossible due to factors outside an individual’s control, most people will try to remedy the situation by speaking with their managers and team members
    • If a situation seems irremediable two options remain 1) leave 2) stay and perform core tasks well

    Quiet quitting, I believe, typically follows extended periods of high engagement trying to solve issues or an experience leading to employee disillusionment.

    A friend of mine told me once, after working for a company for 17 years: “I loved this company. We were a family. I stayed late, worked weekends and nights, when necessary. I was willing to do anything because I was a part of something bigger. However, in the past years, there is a disconnect between values and senior leader behaviours, I feel like a commodity, and friends of mine have been let go, and not treated with respect. So, while I won’t leave, I will no longer put my heart and soul into my job.”

    Thirteen years later my friend still works for the same company.

    Key takeaway: If a team member, who was initially motivated, is suddenly disengaged, it may be a symptom of a systemic issue. Before criticising the individual, it is worth asking yourself what may be going on in the system.

    Leadership Lessons from Being Stuck in an Elevator

    I read a fantastic newsletter by Gene Moran in which he described getting stuck in an elevator at a conference for 40 minutes. The elevator was full. Nobody panicked. However, people were anxious, some inebriated, and many solutions were offered. Imagining the situation: an enclosed space full of strangers, no mobile phone reception, no timeline on a rescue and thanks to the lights and the packed bodies a rapid rise in temperature. I still feel physical discomfort today as I write this. In attempt to effect rescue, one person risked electrocution by unscrewing the live electrical panel in the elevator. Finally, the firefighters arrived and initiated a rescue protocol.

    Key takeaways: When in crisis 1) Action may feel better than inertia but it could get you electrocuted 2) If your team is in a crisis situation don’t expect rational behaviour 3) Bring in professionals to support you, they have done it before 4) Sometimes active read “conscious” inactivity is the best thing you can do

    Gene’s description was hilarious, you can read it here.

    New Social Media Regulations – Why Industry Provided Scientific Information has a Bright Future

    When the internet was first available, I loved it. In the meantime, I am bombarded with advertising. Blogs are written in a standard way, anyone can post anything, with no quality control whatsoever, and I find myself bored by a sea of sameness and frequently frustrated.

    Consequently, I have turned back to an enduring love: books. Halfway through Richard Attenborough’s “Life on earth” I am reminded of the joy of reading work that has not only been meticulously researched, but that is comprehensive, professionally written and presented by an expert. I suspect that as the internet evolves into a library of vapid content, and separating what has value from what does not becomes ever more time-consuming, that expert authored content will experience a renaissance. At some point the desire for speed will be tempered with the desire for accuracy and quality.

    In addition, inaccurate information can be and has been life and livelihood threatening. Governments are acting. French newspaper le Figaro (article) recently reported that France is taking action to regulate social media influencer content, especially in areas that pose significant risk to unwary consumers, such as the promotion of products and services in the following areas: cryptocurrencies, tobacco, alcohol, health care, gambling.

    I am confident that as the internet and content becomes more regulated and as people tire of trying to sift through information, trusted resources will gain value again including content that is provided by the pharmaceutical industry on topics such as disease awareness or product information.

    Key takeaways: Unregulated social media content in the medical space poses risks to the general public especially in the healthcare space. Governments are starting to regulate this content. In addition, as finding accurate content and navigating pop-ups and advertising becomes ever more cumbersome, content from trusted and regulated sources will gain value.

    I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

    If you are struggling with your job, not sure where to go from here, want to develop further in your career, or want to look at repeat patterns in your daily work and private life, that you suspect may be blocking you from reaching your full potential and you would like to discuss how executive coaching could help, please contact me for a confidential and informal chat.

    Best wishes

    Isabelle C. Widmer

    Photo by Marija Zaric on Unsplash

    Celebrating 10 Years as a Consultant

    LinkedIn tells me it is my ten-year anniversary. Absent the messages congratulating me, I wouldn’t have known.

    I started working as a consultant in 2013 and now, suddenly, it is 2023! I am proud and grateful. I am excited about the next decade. Thank you for being a part of this journey, as a friend, colleague, client, partner and reader!

    Topics for today’s blog are:

    – Celebrating 10 Years as a consultant: reflections on a decade of success
    – How to write and submit an abstract in 10 minutes or less
    – How to select a Medical Information system
    – The dependency on a good medical history limits the usefulness of AI as a diagnostic tool in certain settings

    Celebrating 10 Years as a Consultant: Reflections on a Decade of Success

    I find it hard to believe that I have been consulting for 10 years. It’s a milestone that “snuck” up on me. I am incredibly proud, which is an unusual feeling for me and grateful to so many who helped me become successful.

    Without the people who supported me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. My family has been incredibly supportive, especially my father, who sadly passed away last August. I miss him for so many reasons. I had some great mentors including Sharon Leighton, Talie Wood and Traugott Grieder, who shared knowledge, experience and encouragement with me.

    The gratitude from my clients upon the completion of projects combined with the joy of performing interesting work that is never repetitive, confirms every day that I am finally in the right place.

    In the past decade I have supported pharmaceutical companies from biotech startups to Top 5 pharma companies. I have worked with consultancies, solution providers, university spin-offs and universities. I have worked on re-organisations, IT systems, KOL engagement, medical information, biosimilar and data analytics projects. I have been involved in projects on clinical trial recruitment strategies, omni channel customer engagement, code compliance and market access. The breadth of projects, companies and teams has been incredibly enriching.

    In addition, I trained as an executive coach with the Tavistock Institute, joined Eightwell, a network of leadership advisors and the International Society of the Psychoanalytic study of organisations (ISPSO), and became a trustee for telemedicine charity The Virtual Doctors.

    I have done more than I dreamed, and I am very excited about the next decade.

    As the need for expert pharmaceutical industry consultants grows, I have expanded my practice to include senior pharmaceutical industry expert associates with complimentary backgrounds to support on projects and to better meet evolving client needs.

    Key takeaways: I love what I do, I’m happy to support you on any project you need help on. If you are interested in discussing a project with me please reach out for an informal chat to see how I can help.

    How to Write and Submit an Abstract in 10 Minutes or Less

    The deadline for abstract submission to the DIA Medical Information and Communications meeting is April 19th. I have received feedback from many that they cannot make the deadline. Unfortunately, we cannot move it, as we need time to select abstracts, design the agenda, publish the information and collect various bits and pieces. However, we do want to hear your case studies, so I have come up with a way for you to submit in under 10 minutes:

    • If you have one minute: submit a descriptive title e.g. “Selecting and Implementing a Medical Information model at a small biotech company – key insights and learnings”
    • If you have three minutes: use ChatGPT to give you permutations on the above title and select one that you like better, for example this: “Revolutionizing Medical Information Management: Key Insights and Lessons Learned from Implementing a New Model at a Small Biotech Company”
    • If you have five minutes: add in some context: “Revolutionizing Medical Information Management: Key Insights and Lessons Learned from Implementing a New Model at a Small Biotech Company” – presentation covers the following 1) small biotech company working in orphan diseases 2) product marketed in EU and the US 3) Medical Information model implemented globally 4) global medical information team implemented responsible for content generation, governance and IT system management supported by local teams in key markets 5) in addition vendor support for out of office 6) medical information system implementation 7) budget challenges to implement model, as well as headcount challenges 8) we will discuss all the above and share how and why we picked our model, what the key challenges were and how to overcome them
    • If you have ten minutes: You can use ChatGPT to write an abstract. To continue with my example: 1) Open ChatGPT. 2) Type: write a short abstract for a conference presentation with the title “Revolutionizing Medical Information Management: Key Insights and Lessons Learned from Implementing a New Model at a Small Biotech Company”, taking into account the following content 3) Copy paste the content in teal (from above) into the chat field behind your instructions 4) watch as ChatGPT writes an abstract in under 30 seconds 5) Review and edit the conference abstract which you can find, unedited, below with the title conference abstract example:

    Conference Abstract Example
    Revolutionizing Medical Information Management: Key Insights and Lessons Learned from Implementing a New Model at a Small Biotech Companies

    In the fast-paced and highly regulated world of biotech, medical information management is crucial for ensuring the safety and efficacy of products marketed in key markets such as the US and EU. For a small biotech company working in orphan diseases, the task of implementing a new Medical Information model was a significant challenge that required careful consideration and planning. In this presentation, we will share our experience of implementing a new Medical Information model globally, covering the key insights and lessons learned from this process. Our model involved establishing a global medical information team responsible for content generation, governance, and IT system management, supported by local teams in key markets. In addition, we worked with a vendor to provide support for out of office hours. We will discuss the challenges we faced, including the implementation of the medical information system and budget constraints, as well as the headcount challenges we encountered. Our talk will provide insights into how we overcame these challenges and the reasons behind the model we ultimately chose. Attendees will learn about the key considerations for selecting a Medical Information model, including the importance of global coverage, vendor support, and IT system implementation. We will also discuss how to manage budget constraints and headcount challenges while ensuring the model’s success. Overall, this presentation will provide valuable insights and best practices for small biotech companies looking to revolutionize their Medical Information management, enabling them to improve their product safety and efficacy in key markets.

    So, while we need to stick to the 19th of April deadline, you now have various ways to speed up your performance, either enhanced by ChatGPT or simply by submitting a quick title, of your own choosing, with or without bullet points, to us.

    Key takeaways: We really want to read your submissions and have you present at the meeting. It may be faster to submit than you thought.

    How to Select a Medical Information System

    Choosing the right Medical Information system can be a daunting task as it is a long-term commitment with big budget implications. Factors to consider during the selection process include your business model, your business needs, the size of your organisation, your IT infrastructure, customer engagement strategies and the resources you will have at your disposal to implement. Beyond the IT system itself, you will need to think about the licensing model, product support, system updates and data hosting. Ideally, at the end of the process you will have a system that is fit for purpose and scalable, that can integrate with systems you already have in house and that has data analytics capabilities. While there are many things you need to consider, the two most important are these 1) Capture and prioritise your stakeholder needs, while understanding how these are likely to evolve with time and what this means for system selection 2) Vet the systems on the market and see how they and the solution provider who owns the system can meet current and evolve to meet future stakeholder needs,

    If you have recently implemented a new system, are in the process of selecting one, or are willing to talk to me about how your current system is doing, I would love to hear about your experience. Please drop me a line.

    Key takeaway: it’s not easy to implement Medical Information systems well, but if you know what your stakeholders need, you are well on the way.

    The Dependency on a Good Medical History Limits the Usefulness of AI as a Diagnostic Tool in Certain Settings

    I have spent many hours in hospital in the past months with my mother. It has been illuminating on many fronts. It has also led me to think about the use of AI in healthcare. There are many issues in the healthcare system: documentation, process flows, communication etc., where I believe that AI could help. However, based on my last weeks, I think the areas where AI can deliver most benefits, lie outside the interface doctor/patient. This is because making a diagnosis is both an art and a science, as I was recently reminded. Many authors are convinced that AI will help expedite reaching a diagnosis.

    The doctors asked questions, my mother answered them to the best of her ability, but she unwittingly omitted critical details. The doctor couldn’t know what was missing and didn’t think to ask for further information. A good doctor, who wasn’t exhausted, however, might have taken a more complete history and helped my mother identify the critical pieces of the puzzle.

    It brought home to me again that any tool is only as good as the data you feed it and of course the data it was trained on. AI absolutely has it’s uses in diagnostics, in situations such as assessing an EKG for example, it’s easy to see that an AI could outperform a human. However, in a situation where data needs integrating from a clinical examination, lab data and depends on someone gathering a solid patient history, I think a good doctor will have the edge for quite a while yet. provided of course that you can find one.

    Key takeaway: humans are not obsolete in the provision of healthcare just yet.

    I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

    If you are struggling with your job, not sure where to go from here, want to develop further in your career, or want to look at repeat patterns in your daily work and private life, that you suspect may be blocking you from reaching your full potential and you would like to discuss how executive coaching could help, please contact me for a confidential and informal chat.

    Best wishes

    Isabelle C. Widmer

    Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

    Think Before You Like: Why Context Matters in Health News

    Another fortnight, so many new topics! On April 1st a friend sent me a text stating that April fools day is the one day of the year where we read content online or in the newspapers and question its veracity.

    This resonated with me and so today’s blog focuses on content, content sharing, and content checking. I have checked my facts, so hopefully you will not find any errors.

    Topics for today’s blog are:

    – Think before you like: Why context matters in health news
    – Abstract submissions to the Medical Information and Communications meeting
    – How I use ChatGPT and why it is not a magic bullet
    – What ChatGPT thought of my abstract on digital islands

    Think Before you like: Why Context Matters in Health News

    A LinkedIn post from a week ago reported:

    • That the UK government will introduce a legal requirement to make all clinical trial results public within 12 months of trial completion
    • That companies in breach of the law will be refused permission to start new trials

    The writer went on to say “The UK law sets a new global benchmark for transparency in medical research. Comparable disclosure laws in the European Union and the United States only cover some types of trials, and so far remain unenforced.” And concluded “This is a major victory for patients in the UK and sets a new global gold standard for transparency”.

    Comments ranged from those commending the UK government, those saying that it’s about time too, to those questioning how enforcement might look. I added a comment that European Medicines Agency (EMA) has substantially comparable guidance in place (as does the US), and an observation from the UK Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) website “Since January 2021 the MHRA no longer has access to the EudraCT database and therefore there was a danger that UK clinical trials would not appear in a public register, as trial sponsors themselves cannot directly publish their trials in the EU Register”

    While the post is not incorrect, the context I have added in would help readers understand that the UK law is in fact substantially in line with global clinical trial disclosure standards from the EMA and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The key difference between the UK law and EMA and FDA regulations is, as best I can tell, that companies in breach of the law, won’t be allowed to initiate new trials. This is laudable but it remains to be seen how the UK will enforce the law. However, if that is the only difference, then the conclusion “This …. sets a new global gold standard for transparency” doesn’t seem defensible.

    The reason I am sharing these thoughts today is that one commentator wrote, I paraphrase “Does it matter that what the UK is doing is not truly novel and that this post is perhaps mainly a PR activity? After all the patients that we serve are the biggest losers in all of this.”

    After some reflection, my answer is yes it does matter. The post I’m mentioning above was reposted 164 times and liked by 1616 people. Estimating a conservative 300 connections per person the content reached between 50 000 (reposts) to 500 000 (likes) people.

    I found the post because my connections liked it. My first thought was “clinical trials are not well regulated, which puts patients at risk” but I knew that this was incorrect, and the global gold standard comment made me think, I looked up the context, and I realised that the post by itself is, while not inaccurate, beyond the last statement, is potentially misleading. For readers who are not involved in the pharmaceutical industry, their conclusion might just remain what my initial conclusion was: “clinical trials are not well regulated, which puts patients at risk”

    This can ultimately impact people’s willingness to participate in research, and erode trust in trial sites, sponsors and the pharmaceutical industry and so ultimately harm patients, instead of helping, So, I think, yes context and fair balanced writing matters.

    Key takeaways: Think before you like, or repost. Is the information comprehensive? Does the article sound balanced? Is the source a reputable journal like Nature, or HBR, or is it someone’s opinion. If the latter, is the content polarising or does it seem fair and balanced. If in doubt consider fact checking or looking for references.

    N.B. for interested readers I am happy to share the link to the original post.

    Abstract submissions to the Medical Information and Communications meeting

    We recently had the call for abstracts for the Medical Information and Communications meeting, which will be held in Brussels 27th to 29th September. Register here.

    Following on from my previous article on the importance of fair balanced content and context I thought it might be useful to share some thoughts on abstract writing.

    You can pick any topic. Basically, anything you find interesting in the Medical Information or associated space could be of interest to the audience. You can write your abstract in whatever form you would like. However, the classic abstract format is as follows and I generally find it very useful. 1) Background – share why the project is important 2) Materials and Methods – what did you do, why, how, who was engaged 3) Results – what were the outcomes 4) Conclusions.

    When submitting an abstract to the programme committee the more information you provide the easier it will be for us to assess. Timelines are as follows: submit poster and presentation abstracts by the 19th of April. I look forward to reading your submission.

    Key takeaway: if you think it is interesting, we will likely think so too! If you are in doubt contact any member of the programme committee, including myself, we are happy to give guidance. And last but not least don’t miss the deadline.

    How I use ChatGPT and why it is not a Magic Bullet

    One of the key skills in research, interviewing, querying datasets and using tools like ChatGPT or TripAdvisor is the ability to ask the right question and know enough about the subject at hand to be able to put the answers into context.

    Here are some ways I have used ChatGPT:

    • Quality control: When I have reservations on something I have found online I may put it into ChatGPT to see if I can validate the content/substantiate my qualms with sources, generally after I have done my own research already. In this situation, it has become very apparent that while the tool is useful, it has limits, and you need to know the subject area very well yourself, so that you can put the data retrieved into context and know where to dig further.
    • As a title generator: I provide the key words, specify the type of content I need a title for, abstracts, panel discussions, books etc., and the maximum length for the title and see what ChatGPT produces.
    • As a test reviewer for an abstract I was submitting, which I will share.
    • To generate title suggestions for a 15-minute slide presentation outlining key data on one of the biggest Swiss newspapers as a test on how a student of my acquaintance might use it.
    • When looking for regulations and guideline texts and computer error fixes.

    I don’t use the text as is but as an inspiration or sparring partner as I develop ideas and when I use it always ask it to provide links to the sources used.

    Key takeaway: ChatGPT is not the great equaliser I initially imagined. It’s extremely useful, but only if you know your subject well, and you know how to research, do quality control and check the data, the output you get will reflect any deficiencies you have. If you are creative, I suspect you can use it to generate innovative content, in much the same way that a loom can help you make a beautiful tapestry but only if you are able to provide the image yourself. It is truly a useful tool, but it’s not the magic bullet it’s been hailed as, I don’t believe.

    What ChatGPT Thought of my Abstract on Digital Islands

    As shared in my last blog, I will be hosting a panel at Connect in Pharma in June in Geneva. We will discuss among other things, digital islands and how to overcome them. After much deliberation, the title I decided on was “Marooned on a digital island in a sea of data?”

    Having written the abstract, I sent it over to a friend for comment. He sent me ChatGPT’s feedback back instead.

    Here it is:

    As an AI language model, I think the abstract sounds like an interesting and timely topic for a panel discussion. The title “Marooned on a digital island in a sea of data?” is catchy and thought-provoking, and the description raises important issues about the challenges of managing data in today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape.

    The panellists, Dr med. Isabelle C. Widmer and Peter Shone, bring different perspectives and expertise to the discussion with their backgrounds in elytra GmbH and iEthico, respectively.

    The abstract also outlines some of the common problems that companies face with data management and highlights the steps they are taking to address them. The focus on implementing a company-wide data management strategy is particularly relevant as it emphasizes the need for a holistic approach to managing data.

    The inclusion of AI as a possible solution to data management challenges is also noteworthy, and the panellists’ exploration of the promise and limitations of AI should provide valuable insights for the audience.

    Overall, the abstract sets a clear agenda for the panel discussion and promises to provide actionable insights for attendees.

    My friend added: As a humble human being I think your abstract is good as well.

    Key takeaway: ChatGPT wrote a pleasing text based on my abstract. However, the resulting text feels as though the words I used in my abstract have merely been jumbled and structured into new sentences that read differently but mean the same thing. As said above, ChatGPT is great at filler text.

    I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

    If you are struggling with your job, not sure where to go from here, want to develop further in your career, or want to look at repeat patterns in your daily work and private life, that you suspect may be blocking you from reaching your full potential and you would like to discuss how executive coaching could help, please contact me for a confidential and informal chat.

    Best wishes

    Isabelle C. Widmer

    University Hospital Basel
    Photo by Isabelle Widmer

    What to do if you are marooned on a digital island in a sea of data

    Inspiration for my blog comes from many sources. Stories I am told, new material I have come across, training courses, current affairs or things that I am suddenly fascinated by. Today’s topics cover life, the universe and everything, to quote Douglas Adams.

    I share my thoughts on what to do to love your job, data management, perception and reality and managing reality through regulations and codes.

    Topics for today’s blog are:

    – Secrets to being happy in your job without moving to an island
    – What to do if you are marooned on a digital island in a sea of data
    – Healthcare disparity as an example of how we see the world
    – When medical associations write codes

    Secrets to Being Happy in your job Without Moving to an Island

    A senior pharma company executive recently told me how much she loves what she does. I was impressed. She said “I love my job, I have managed people, but I don’t enjoy it much. I am experienced. I know exactly what I am good at, what I enjoy doing, and where I can add value. Any promotion I am offered that takes me away from my core interests and pleasures, is a promotion I will turn down. I am paid well to do a job I like to do, how lucky am I?”

    This individual has been working for many years. It has taken her time and experience in various roles as well as a lot of self-reflection and the courage to say no to the wrong opportunities to end up in a place where she is very happy. For most employees it takes a while to get to the right place. Your degree is the foundation, the rest is finding the right ecosystem. I have written about how to do this in two recent newsletters. You can find the content here and here.

    However, even when you know what you want, don’t expect plain sailing. The broader your skill set and the better you are at what you do, the more opportunities you will be offered. A colleague shared that he is often approached by individuals who have great suggestions for projects he can get involved in. He also is able to politely decline. The lesson here: once you know what you want, act in alignment with your goals. By all means enjoy being courted, but know when to say no, or perhaps, not now. Don’t be seduced by opportunities for the wrong reasons: status, money, prestige, team leadership, if you know beforehand that you don’t want the job. Likewise, if you are not enjoying what you do, act, instead of hoping it will get better at some point.

    Key takeaways: self-knowledge and self-awareness are the foundation upon which satisfying careers are built. Work on your professional skills by all means, but don’t neglect personal development.

    What to do if you are Marooned on a Digital Island in a sea of Data

    A comprehensive data management strategy provides a competitive advantage in today’s rapidly changing business environment. As the world becomes increasingly digital, the pace of business and the volume of data that is created, consumed, and stored is growing exponentially. Unfortunately, data management has not kept pace, and digital solutions have been, and often still are, developed in silos, leading to a disconnect between systems, data and data analytics. Data is marooned on «digital islands». Disparate working practices and a lack of standards and standardisation further compound the problem.

    Most companies face and are working on these three topics:

    • How to gain insights from the terabytes of data held in disconnected systems and whether it is worth it
    • When, where and if to use AI
    • And how to design and implement a company wide data management strategy

    Supporting teams to identify a data management strategy that is fit for purpose is something that makes me happy. Some considerations:

    • What are the key insights you need to support the business now and in the future?
    • What type of data will you need to have to answer your questions?
    • What data do you already have and where is it stored? What is missing?
    • What is the source of the data you need, will that potentially change as markets/the business evolves?
    • What are the technology and competency requirements? Never start this exercise with the technology.
    • How will you approach data governance and standardise working practice?

    I will be taking part in and running a panel on data husbandry, digital islands, the promises and challenges of AI and what we can learn from other industries in June 2023 at a Connect in Pharma event. I will be joined by Peter Shone, Chief Technology Officer at iEthico, who I admire enormously for his knowledge across time, space and different industries of all things data related. You can register for the event here.

    Key takeaways: 1) If you struggle with this, you are not alone 2) In an environment where you are under pressure to do more with less, being able to get data insights may give you the competitive edge you are looking for 3) the sooner you get a handle on it the better 4) Before you dive in make sure you have asked the right questions and documented the answers.

    Healthcare Disparity as an Example of how we see the World

    A week ago, I had a bicycle accident. I called my doctor the next day, had an appointment an hour later, and the confirmation that my wrist was not broken within 24 hours of the event. One weekend my mother fell. I took her to AE. We waited for four hours in the AE of the hospital that is five minutes from her house for a CAT scan, as well as the results of the X-ray confirming that she had broken her leg. She was admitted to hospital immediately. Her operation was scheduled as soon as possible based on her clinical status. At no point was there a lack of resources or a bottleneck that impacted her access to tailored health care.

    In contrast a friend’s dad in the UK needed medical support. The GP said, “we don’t do house calls, call the community nurse”. The community nurse said, “I cannot come unless I have a referral from the GP”. In the end the family called the ambulance. The ambulance arrived thirteen hours after the call. My friend’s father was then in the ambulance in a holding pattern for seven hours in the parking lot of AE, alongside twelve other ambulances, as AE was full and the health system is hopelessly overwhelmed.

    Key takeaway: Our frame of reference and what we consider acceptable is strongly influenced by the society we operate in and what is “normal” where we are. This is true for any activity in our life. While working across cultures it’s therefore worth asking for underlying beliefs that influence decisions or viewpoints, you might be surprised, and it will definitely make things easier.

    When Medical Associations Write Codes

    Pharma companies employees are trained to adhere to the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) codes, regulatory authority guidance documents and to be GxP compliant. Beyond IFPMA codes, country laws and regulatory authority guidelines, the industry also has internal Standard Operating Procedures. I was intrigued when I recently came across a code of conduct for corporate sponsors penned by the European Board for Accreditation in Hematology (EBAH), headquarters are based in the Netherlands.

    The introduction to the code of conduct states “The agreement will define a code of conduct which will govern the commercial entities’ sponsorship of CME activities organized by (representatives of) academic and scientific organizations”. The goal of the code is to ensure that activities are non-promotional. Unfortunately, there is no date on the document, no version, nor information on validity of the document, so I don’t know how old it is. The EBAH has other guidelines on their website too. This is the first time I have come across a Code of Conduct addressing the interaction between physicians and the industry that has been penned by a body representing physicians. I’d love to hear from anyone who is aware of any other similar codes.

    Key takeaway: the landscape governing interactions with healthcare professionals is continually evolving as witnessed by the fact that medical associations now write Codes outlining best practice when medical association members and the pharmaceutical industry engage for CME activities.

    I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

    If you are struggling with your job, not sure where to go from here, want to develop further in your career, or want to look at repeat patterns in your daily work and private life, that you suspect may be blocking you from reaching your full potential and you would like to discuss how executive coaching could help, please contact me for a confidential and informal chat.

    Best wishes

    Isabelle C. Widmer

    Love your job without moving to an island
    Photo by Isabelle Widmer