Category Archives: Blog

Navigating the digital landscape

I hope you have had a wonderful holiday and are back full of energy.

Today’s topics:

  • Content strategy: navigating the digital landscape
  • How to make it easy for your customers to access digital content
  • Google trends and beyond – why context is key
  • Leadership: coaching considerations

Content strategy: navigating the digital landscape

In today’s digital era, providing content digitally is a necessity. The challenge lies in providing content in a way that ensures it stands out, and is accessible.

To add complexity, customer expectations and needs, and market-specific governance vary by location and culture; different customer types—patients, pharmacists, general practitioners, etc.—have different content needs.

At the recent DIA Medical Information and Communications Meeting in Brussels Dana Weber, International Digital Marketer and Katie Lewis, Vice President, both at Transperfect, shared recommendations for digital content provision. Dana suggested asking yourself: “What are HCPs looking for and do I have that information on my website?”

  1. Search approach: unveiling customer insights
    Search and social listening tools identify the type of content customers access online, and frequently used platforms. Data collected on company and competitor products provides insights into preferences and behaviours which vary from country to country. Dana suggests: Checking whether your company FAQs align with the terms that clinicians are using in their online searches.
  2. Surveying customers: Bridging the online-offline gap
    The types of questions asked online often differ from those made in direct calls to Medical Information teams. Understanding the drivers behind these behaviours can help companies tailor their online/offline content strategy. Surveys with healthcare professionals (HCPs), and patients can be conducted to gain insights into their content access preferences.
  3. Strategic placement of content: making information accessible
    Once you have identified the type of content your customers require you must ensure that it is easily accessible in the right format and in the right location.

Susan Mohamed and a team representing the Medical Information Leaders Europe (MILE) published an article providing guidelines for Digital Information provision for Healthcare professionals in March 2023 (Link).

Beyond the above approach Dana Weber added that market insights and competitor analysis help refine content strategy.

Key take-aways: In the world of online content, understanding your clients’ needs, monitoring content use and performance, and tailoring your content strategy accordingly, is critical to be relevant.

How to simplify access to digital content for your customers

It’s universally acknowledged that product-related content should be tailored to different customer types and accessible through their preferred channels. In addition, diverse customer types may favour distinct channels, and various inquiry types may lead to different contact methods, as outlined in the previous post.

However, even when you have taken all this into account, and identified key topics, formats, channels, and strategic content placement, the battle is far from won. The performance indicator for the success of the digital content provision is whether your customers access your content. It helps if you make it easy for them.

Here are some considerations from my consulting practice:

  • Transparency: Clearly communicate to customers on the website what information they can expect to find online and for which information they should contact the Medical Information department directly.
  • Consistency: Having a consistent approach across the entire company and products and teams regarding the type of information that is shared, which channel it is shared by and a harmonised format. Remember, customers engage with your company as a whole, they don’t think in individuals, in products or in individual teams, consequently, an approach that is not harmonised does not look professional.
  • Professional and fast platform: having a good platform that enables fast, easy, and efficient navigation to search for content
  • Fast access to support: If customers cannot access content online, provide them with the option to submit the query directly, without retyping the entire content of their request, or to transfer to a live chat, a video call, or to leave a phone number for call back. Don’t make them have to change channels, i.e. pick up their phones to call customer service themselves.

There is nothing more frustrating than performing online searches only to discover that certain information is not available online or not available to certain customer types at all.

Key take-away: Make customer access to your content easy, you would be surprised how often it is not.

Google trends and beyond – why context is key

Discussing how Google Trends can provide insights into healthcare professional’s medical information search behaviour online, a presenter said “people put information online all the time, it is important to take inventory of this information, to understand the needs of different demographics, avoid the temptation to ‘boil the ocean’ by conducting initial assessments to verify hypotheses.”

She went on to share a surprising revelation based on her research regarding content searches for a certain product. According to Google Trends, most questions submitted in Germany were in English. Asked about this she smiled saying: “Google doesn’t lie”. Upon reflection she mused: “Does it?”. This experience highlights something important: data analytics are valuable, looking at trends is critical, but interpretation must always be context dependent.

Depending on the type of healthcare professional you are interested in, their area of expertise, geographical location, and international exposure, they may search for medical information and product-specific details in either English or their mother tongue. If you want to ensure you understand your target audience, understanding whether what you observe is the complete reality, a subset of available information, or something else entirely, is crucial.

Key takeaway: If you are analysing global trends for your products, cross-check your data with local teams, who know the local market, and who can potentially question your insights.

Leadership: coaching considerations

Most employees have had many assessments and have benefited from coaching. Typically, at the beginning there are the tests: Myers Briggs, Insights, Belbin, DISC etc. as well as 360° feedback from colleagues and superiors. The information gain from these activities is significant, but although each approach brings valuable information to the fore, most of these tests identify what is, what is seen, what the coachee knows and what others observe and experience.

While there is undeniable value in having the information these assessments provide I believe it is also important to explore what is underneath.

I find that taking verbal communication out of coaching enables coachees to access their emotions, their experience, and their situation differently.

We are raised in a culture of language. We think, we write, we communicate using words. When coachees work with drawings, constellations, and other non-verbal approaches to review the “what is” it is easier to strip away superimposed narratives and enables relatively access to what is at the core of a situation. Frequently, new insights and connections rapidly emerge, often to the surprise of the coachee.

Key take-away: Often a non-verbal approach to coaching can bring surprising insights.

I hope my blog provides you with useful insights if you have a project you need support with or are interested in coaching, please contact me to discuss whether I can support you. To find out what clients and coachees say about working with me, please follow this link.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Isabelle C. Widmer MD

Photo Credit: Errol Ahmed @unsplash

Merry christmas, the “one thing” and why to go beyond the annual review

Merry Christmas to you, may you and your family experience the peace and joy of the season.

Today’s topics:

  • Speaking a common language
  • My year in review and the case for a five-year review period
  • What is your one thing?
  • Leadership; Why to invest in self-knowledge

Speaking a common language

To be native to a place we must learn to speak its language,” this chapter title from the book Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer, caught my attention because it is also true for individuals in teams and in companies.

This is important when trying to solve a business problem and it is often at the foundation of issues that are obstacles when teams want to solve problems.

As a team leader, when you are trying to solve a challenge with a team, for example when you are trying to implement one process, one content, one approach, one way of working, reflect on whether you are imposing your language on your team, or whether you are open to developing an approach with your team. The latter takes longer, but is, I believe, the only way to be successful.

When transformation efforts fail, it is often because the message was not universally clear and understandable. This makes the change feel forced, almost foreign, increasing the risk of eventual rejection.

Key takeaway: often the inability to achieve a collective understanding in a company derives from a lack of awareness of the different languages spoken in the organisation and lead to failed transformation efforts. 

My year in review and the case for a five-year review period

Many of us set ourselves annual goals and, at year-end,  focus on what was not achieved rather than on what was. I propose that assessing where we were a few years ago, compared to today, is a more meaningful measure of change. Reflecting on 2023 and prior years, I see patterns emerging. My speaking engagements have increased both online and in person, the breadth of the work I do has increased, how I work has changed and my network has expanded also. While my passions remain constant how they emerge in the work I do is undergoing an evolution.

In previous years, I have spoken in person on medical information and medical affairs meetings and at online events on topics “Driving Digital Excellence in Medical Affairs: Delivering Seamless and Personalized Customer-Centric Experiences” with Transperfect, “Why Biotech startups fail” with Nanobotmedical, and on education, careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and career strategies for young women at the invitation of the HBA and Transperfect.

In 2023, while my pet topics, equal access to opportunities, education, health equity, data husbandry, and data analytics remained, I spent more time on stage than online.

I led a panel discussion at the Connect in Pharma event, in Geneva, with the title “Marooned on a digital island in a sea of data?” We will rerun this topic as a Q and A session online in January 2024. I also took part in a panel discussion on “Inclusion, equity, and women in pharma” at the same event. My interest in both topics stems from the same driver: the tendency of companies to not make the best use of available resource and talent. In the case of data, because nobody knows that it exists, where to find it, if they suspect it exists, or how to access it depending on location and format. In the case of human resources, because change is uncomfortable, and the fact that ability, talent, and leadership skills are not determined by genotype or phenotype is still making its way into people’s heads around the world. I also spoke at the EU DIA medical information meeting in Brussels on “Designing your Medical Information Set-Up – Considerations for Medical Information Teams” focusing more on how to transform your business and how to collaborate with others in your company, than on subject matter expertise, and ran a workshop on “medical information set-up and strategic considerations”.

As a physician who cares about health equity, and as a trustee for telemedicine charity the Virtual Doctors, I was thrilled to participate in a panel discussion on “Tech for Good in Healthcare and Wellness” together with charity representatives from the British red cross, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and mental health app Stigma. I also took part in a podcast on global healthcare equity in the Igniting Change series (Link).

Beyond speaking at events and engaging with peers, I also invested time listening and learning, taking classes in constellations and systemic coaching, psychotherapy, and psychology as well as in artificial intelligence. All of which benefit my work as coach and consultant.

In my work, I have supported the design of a telemedicine application, helped teams to structure their global medical information set-up, and to ensure that the information flow in the company benefits the business, worked with coachees, and engaged with a software company on their product development.

And finally, I am co-authoring a publication on social dreaming during the pandemic. Contact me if you want to know more about this, it is fascinating. 

Beyond learning, sharing, and working I have also improved dramatically at living in the past five years. This is perhaps the biggest change I see. I make sure I see friends and family regularly. I prioritise the people in my life because events in the past year reminded me that you never know how much time you have with the people you love, or to do the things you wish to do, and that you cannot get that time back.

I realised that I did more in the past year, and over the years, than I was aware of, and I see that I am doing more of the things I love.

Key takeaway: In order to chart your progress it is worth going  beyond the annual review. 

What is your “one thing”?

I recently had a wonderful lunch with a consultant. There was  scintillating conversation, laughter, common ground, and insights. The following statement stayed with me: “The teams I work with know their daily business better than I do, of course, but there is one thing I excel at: Transformation.”

My lunch partner continued “Why am I better at it? Simply because I have years of experience across companies, teams, and industries. I know what works; and I know what does not.” The energy,joy and obvious truth, in this phrase were infectious, extremely relatable and they still make me smile.

The conversation also made me realise I know the one thing I excel at. Do you know what your “one thing” is?

Key takeaways: There is power in knowing your “one thing” and power in knowing when to complement it with additional expertise.

Leadership: Why to invest in self-knowledge

Today I came across an excellent publication by Simon Western. It is called “An overview of the leadership discourses.” The article speaks about how the vision of the ideal leader has changed since the beginning of the twentieth century from leader as controller, to leader as therapist, to the current leader as messiah, where the desire for a charismatic leader/messiah is widespread in the face of uncertainty.

Simon Western states in his article “Individual leaders, leadership teams and organizations rarely consciously choose their preferred leadership discourse as these are hidden within normative behaviours and expectations. However, they are drawn to discourses for various reasons.” If you do not read the article, then remember this quote.

While you can read about leadership styles, you can reflect, and you can try to model yourself on a current ideal, yet the type of leader you are and become, is profoundly influenced by your history, your experience, your culture, your background and your self-awareness etc. Therefore, to shape yourself as a leader, it is important to know what influences you.

A musician practices their instrument, an athlete their sport. As a leader, or manager or any other professional, you are your asset. You are your instrument, and knowing who you are, who you are not, and what the conditions are within which you will thrive, will allow you to consciously choose how you lead, your life, your team and yourself and ultimately to live a life that is in congruent with who you are.  

Key takeawayKnowing where you want to go is excellent, but in order to chart your path, you need to know yourself, your tools, your resources and how to adapt them to the path ahead. 

Thank you for reading, wishing you a wonderful festive Christmas season and a great end of the year, and start to 2024. I look forward to catching up with you in the new year and discussing how I can help you reach your strategic, operational or personal personal goals.

My best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer MD

Photo credit: Fabian Mardi @unsplash

Season’s greetings

I hope you are finishing up your last tasks, watering the plants on your desk and looking forward to shutting your computer down for the year. I hope there is time with your family and friends ahead. Snowball fights, or beach sojourns, and some time to relax, and to recover from the peak level activities that always seem to mark December. As this is my Christmas card post, or holiday season card, for those of you, who do not celebrate Christmas, I only really want to share a personal message to all of you, who read my blog and who write to me with thoughts, comments and inspiration.

A personal message for you

Dear readers, friends, colleagues, and clients

You regularly read my blog. I know there is a lot of competition for your attention, so it means a lot that you take the time to engage with my content. I appreciate your responses, suggestions, and thoughts and I am always happy to hear from you.

This year has been hectic. While every year is busy, in this year, it seems to me, there has been more of everything. More business trips, more panel discussions, podcasts, speaking invitations, more training both in the coaching arena and in the technical space, and more volunteering too and more consulting and coaching work.

While what I have been up to is important, but the joy that I derive from it is also firmly linked to who I have engaged with. Most of the happiness in life derives from the people who accompany us on our journey. At this time of year, I like to reflect on the gifts life has bestowed on me and as I do so I want to share my appreciation with you.

So, today my message at the end of the year to you is one of thanks. Whether you are a friend, a colleague or a supporter, whether you are a coachee or a client I have worked with, or someone who has recommended me to others, whether you send me comments on my blog or subscribe to my newsletter or are a friendly face I meet online or at conferences, I thank you for engaging and I look forward to next year when our paths will cross again.

I wish you all the best for the upcoming holiday season and all the best for 2024. Much joy and relaxation with family, friends and loved ones. Until we meet again.

Isabelle C. Widmer MD

Image credit: Isabelle C. Widmer London, December 2022

Improving collaboration across silos

Almost the end of the year and I am writing from London. Despite all manner of meetings I have taken the time to enjoy the lights, and they are beautiful this year. 

Today’s topics:

  • How to align and transform your organisation
  • Designing software systems for success beyond deployment
  • Why transformations linked to AI will lead to changes in pharma pricing models
  • Leadership; Want to improve your company culture? Plan for tomorrow but start today

How to align and transform your organisation

I recently explored Glassdoor reviews of pharmaceutical companies, specifically those left by employees who departed on positive terms. One standout comment praised the overall experience, opportunities, leadership culture, and colleagues. However, a noteworthy observation was made: “If teams didn’t operate in silos, the company would perform even better.”

Most large companies struggle with the “silo issue.” Fortunately, proven methods exist to bridge these gaps. When embarking on transformative projects, bringing together key stakeholders to agree on the mission and vision is a powerful strategy. This process helps align teams, fostering a shared goal. Even if you know where you are going, even when the business reasons are clear, it is important to remember that without people on board, you can do nothing. Whatever your project, whether it’s achieving a 360-degree view of the customer to improve service, harmonising processes, or sharing resources to reduce the duplication of effort, once teams realize that collaboration will ultimately facilitate their jobs and magnify their collective impact, any project will become much easier to manage.

Key Takeaway: Emphasise common ground, encourage collaboration, and acknowledge the shared commitment to delivering the best solutions for customers.

Designing software systems for success beyond deployment

Imagine, you are a clinician in rural Zambia. You have a waiting room full of patients, you are the only provider for your community, and the nearest hospital is over 80km away.  You are also the first port of call for accidents and emergencies. Imagine further, that you cannot just pop into the next room to have a chat with a colleague about your patient’s health, because there is no colleague in the next room. There may not be many rooms in the building in fact, beyond your surgery.

This is reality for clinical officers providing healthcare in rural communities around the globe. The Virtual Doctors, the charity I am involved with as a trustee, provides virtual access to “a colleague in the next room” through technology. The charity’s  telemedicine model links clinical officers in rural Zambia and Malawi to UK volunteer doctors who can provide a second opinion or guidance in complex cases where specialist knowledge is required.

The reality of a healthcare professional in Zambia and Malawi may seem to have no relevance for your daily life working in the pharmaceutical industry, however, I believe it absolutely does. When working you need to understand the reality of the teams you engage with, the challenges they face and what will make their working life better. If you have never experienced a situation, it is hard to imagine all relevant aspects, which is why engaging with experts is critical. This might be the expert in a different field down the corridor, it might be a commercial team based in Kuala Lumpur. Unless you talk to them about what their needs are you cannot hope to imagine what that market needs.

This truth is important in all areas of business and especially so when developing software tools for global use. The Virtual Doctors recently developed an app working with 3-sided cube, a tech company, that focuses on developing technology for good. The app needed to be fit for purpose, which considering where it would be used meant that it needed to be functional regardless of network access, i.e. on and off-line. Considering the time constraints clinical officers are under ease of use partnered with capturing sufficient data for case resolution was critical and the needs of UK based volunteer doctors also needed to be respected. In addition, it was important to understand the expectations of the Ministries of Health and local regulations in countries of operation regarding data use, data privacy and data storage location.

In summary, good software system design depends on many factors. User needs, user reality and the awareness that good design for a desk worker working on a stable network with multiple screens is not the same as good design for a field worker, who in the case of an MSL, or a sales representative, faces similar challenges to rural health officers. They don’t always have network access, they may be moving between clinics, they may not have much time to enter cases and they don’t necessarily want to scroll for a long time to enter the data.

I recently took part in a podcast hosted by 3-sided cube to discuss the Virtual Doctors, data, analytics and apps. If you are interested to hear more about the charity you can find the link to the podcast here.

If you are looking to implement a new software system and need help balancing business and data analytics needs do reach out, I’d love to discuss, because helping companies to build systems that are fit for purpose while capturing relevant data for analytics and business growth is a passion of mine.

Key takeaway: the foundation of good system design is universal and factors in location, purpose, people, analytics, regulations and finally the available tech.

Why transformations linked to AI will lead to changes in pharma pricing models

As AI has become more widely embedded in business the healthcare sector has witnessed remarkable advances in the past decade. These breakthroughs have unlocked the potential for enhanced diagnostics, the creation of more precise and targeted medicines, personalized healthcare solutions, and faster product development. In addition, many companies across various sectors including those not initially involved in healthcare provision, are actively harnessing this potential.

As products become more efficiently produced, with a sharper focus on precision and very likely shorter time-to-market for new products, and as new entrants from diverse industries with different business models join the healthcare sector, bringing along different business models, the landscape is undergoing significant change. In addition the focus is moving from treating disease to preventing disease and product/diagnostic packages including digital healthcare solutions. 

Considering these new introductions and ongoing transformations, it is reasonable to anticipate that future pricing models will evolve and pricing might be linked to product “packages” rather than single products leading to new models in the provision of healthcare and a new approach to healthcare financing.

I am curious to hear your thoughts on this. Do you agree? Disagree? Have additional ideas? Please share them with me!

Key takeaway: when one aspect of a system changes, it’s unlikely that the rest will remain static.

Leadership; Want to improve your company culture? Start today while you plan for tomorrow

Company culture influences productivity, your reputation, and how your customers view you.

The culture depends on the behaviour of individuals and how they engage with others. This is true for both the customer’s engagement lifecycle and an employee’s employment lifecycle. Whether a customer comes back, an applicant endorses the experience with your company, or people have fond memories of you and the company you work for, depends fundamentally on the following: Do you do what you say and say what you do? Are you consistent and honest, regardless of what you are communicating? Do you treat new hires, employees, and those you let go with respect? Authenticity is key.

People choose to work for individuals, they resign from working with individuals, and they perform, in the main, for individuals. In addition, they also care about the people they work with and remember if their friends are not treated well. Your company may have a wonderful mission and vision statement, but if these are not embodied, then your employees know. And if they are not embodied, there is likely a very good reason why.

So while you are reflecting on how to improve your company culture, what can you do in the meantime? Start with your sphere of influence. Do not endorse bad behaviour, even if it is practical to do so. Embody the qualities you admire; be a person you would want to engage with. You’ll attract top talent, retain it, engage customers, and foster loyalty among colleagues and teams. If you are in the position to do so, ensure that individuals are treated with respect whether you are hiring them, developing them, or letting them go. How you do this last one says a lot about you as a human being and a leader. As a leader, let the culture you want to see start with you. In parallel, assess where you are, assess the obstacles, and why these obstacles are maintained and who they serve, and decide on what you are willing to sacrifice for a better culture.

If you need support I have worked across organisations but also with teams and individuals to bring about systemic change.

Key takeaways: A good company culture depends on individuals respecting other individuals. I believe it really is that simple.

Thank you for reading. The end of the year is nigh. I hope you are winding down activities, getting ready to enjoy some time with friends and family and planning to recharge your batteries before the new year is upon us. If you are looking to solve an issue before the end of the year, or to get a foundation in place to prepare for next year, I’d love to discuss how I can help you either with your business strategy and operations or with your team and personal development goals.

Wishing you a wonderful festive Christmas season and looking forward to hearing from you,

Isabelle C. Widmer MD

Photo credit: Isabelle C. Widmer, Carnaby Street, London December 2023

AI use cases in biopharmaceutical medicine

I love winter, the days are short, yes, but walks out in the forest are wonderful and the cold makes being indoors even more enjoyable. Incredibly, however, I just realised, there are only four weeks to the end of the year.

Today’s topics:

We all agree AI will change/has changed the world. The reason this is happening now is the convergence of the following: computing power, networks, knowledge, statistics, and data availability.

The use cases are endless, and the bright new world of the future, some of which is already here, spans vignettes including accelerated clinical trials, earlier disease detection, a lower burden of chronic disease, AI-assisted operations, coaching and psychological counselling as well as more relaxed doctors who, supported by AI, can spend more time with patients. I am confident that this last one, although often discussed, will sadly not become a reality.

At last week’s “AI in biopharmaceutical medicine” event hosted by PWC, three presenters shared their knowledge: Dr Joanna Soroka, Principal at investor Hitachi Ventures, who spoke about investing in the AI/healthcare space and shared some insights on the criteria Hitachi applies when selecting companies to invest in, Sotirios Perdikeas, Predictive Modeling and Data Analytics Leader at Roche, who spoke about the impact that AI has in his area at Roche, as well as key success factors for implementing AI and Dr Andreé Bates Founder and CEO of Eularis, a consulting agency that specialises in the strategic and adapted use of AI/FutureTech to improve business outcomes, who covered an incredible amount of topics in a very short amount of time.

Many clinical trial topics were covered including the use of AI in drug discovery and clinical trial management. Dr Andreé Bates mentioned many use cases including a clinical trial where Phases I and II were run exclusively using digital twins, i.e. with no human or animal subjects. Sotirios Perdikeas shared an example where AI was used to assess the impact of standard inclusion and exclusion criteria on the hazard ratio in clinical trials. The outcome of this assessment was that 70% of the assessed inclusion and exclusion criteria had zero impact on the hazard ratio. He also mentioned that AI could be used to optimise clinical trial assessment schedules, revolutionising an area where typically the optimal number of visits and examinations is experience-based.

Data science topics were also extensively covered at the event. Dr. Joanna Soroka delved into considerations like prioritizing platforms when considering investments. She also highlighted the shifting landscape, where healthcare companies, who have started to leverage technology in their business, are now being joined by technology firms leveraging their expertise to enter the healthcare arena.

While the speakers covered many topics, three key success factors for the use of AI in the biopharmaceutical industry emerged consistently: the tailored use of the technology, the availability of high-quality data, and the importance of involving the right people from start to finish.

Often, we concentrate on AI’s potential to provide solutions without recognizing the essential role of humans in project success from design, to implementation, to post launch management.

Sotirios Perdikeas spoke to this often-overlooked point: “the launch of any new technology is an issue, deployment is an issue, we often think deployment is the end of the journey, but it is, in fact, the beginning”.

If you need help to support a deployment or someone to accompany your project from start to finish to help ensure your organisation and your people are well placed to succeed and make the most of a new solution or approach, I would be happy to explore with you how I can help.

Key takeaway: AI based solutions are changing the healthcare space at an incredible rate, but you can do nothing without the right approach, data and people.

Your rabbit changed my life – a personal data management case study

I often take notes when I am out and about so that I can use them for later newsletters on topics that are relevant to the pharmaceutical industry and for anyone interested in optimising their operations. One such note read as follows “crystal ball/factory farming/athletes/farming versus industry/mini break/medicating patients/startups/princess does not do punctures/your rabbit changed my life”.

Unfortunately, while I have vague memories of the content these snippets were anchoring, the snippets are insufficient for newsletter use in any other way than to illustrate the importance of making sure the data you capture in your systems is fit for purpose.

In a recent discussion on AI the instructor said, “you should expect to spend around 50% of your time on cleaning the data you will work with, another 25% of it analysing it and 25% on visualisation”.

In my example above, the only thing the data tells me is that my mind sometimes works in mysterious ways and covers many seemingly random topics.

Consequently, I have had to use the data to tell a different story to the one I had initially intended.  So, in this case it’s repurposed data. However, in many cases the data is not as obviously garbled as in my example above, and you might not notice. If you then use it to analyse your market you may have an issue.  

Therefore, when you are designing systems for data capture make sure you design in such a way that individual interpretations of the data that is being captured, and consequently variations in data capture, have minimal impact on the data quality. Aim for a harmonised understanding of data structure and categorisation across your business.  Ensure your teams know why this is important and how good data capture will benefit them and their projects. 

Key takeaway: You reap the data you sow, so, sow wisely.

Leveraging diversity – learning from the cosmetics industry

Douglas, a leading European cosmetics company, markets products both online and in-store. The company operates under different names such as Douglas, Nocibe, or Parfumdreams in nearly all European markets.

During a recent visit to my local store, the manager told me, “Regardless of someone’s place in society or their age, they are welcome to work here.”‘ He continued, “My team is incredibly diverse, with each member bringing unique experiences that enrich our group. For instance, the lady working at the cash register is past retirement age, but she’s a seasoned veteran in the industry. This is fantastic for us. We learn from her, and that helps us serve our customers better“.

The cosmetics industry targets everyone in the market, and, in the store I visited, everyone is serving the market. I’m not sure if this is the official ethos of Douglas or just the perspective of the manager I met, but I think it is a smart approach.

Why is this relevant to the pharmaceutical industry? It matters because, despite the industry’s official commitment to diversity, and the admittedly great changes that have been made, I often encounter individuals aged 50 and older who worry that they won’t find another job if they are affected by a reorganization. A friend with an impressive CV recently told me that she was recently told the hiring manager was “looking for someone younger”.

While the pharmaceutical sector is different from cosmetics retail, the argument for hiring for diversity, and this includes older, experienced individuals, is even more relevant. In an industry where individuals change roles often, navigate complex international and regulatory environments, and are highly educated, hiring for diversity, with a focus on knowledge transfer, will contribute to better project outcomes and enhanced effectiveness.

Key takeaways:  1) Fostering diversity, valuing experience, and promoting continuous learning are essential for improving project outcomes and overall effectiveness. 2) Every discussion, every interaction, and every industry has something valuable to teach us

Leadership – balancing the majority to drive innovation

Your most important asset is the people you work with — the individuals who hold much of the knowledge in your organization and whose creativity has to power to drive your business.  In order for a company to thrive, ideally, voices that raise creative suggestions should be heard. However, this is not easy to ensure, because often the status quo, or the majority view, triumphs over voices that bring in new suggestions.

While I am writing about people, I am using an AI example here to illustrate how a single voice can easily be overheard:

Your AI system is only as good as the data it is trained on and this data, is by necessity, historical data.

Using the example of the earth being flat or round: If you trained your AI on data from 500 BC, the consensus would generally have been that the earth is flat. Your AI tool would answer the question: “is the earth flat?”  with a clear “yes”.

If instead you train your AI on data from 200 BC and asked the same question. The answer would be “No, while up until recently people believed the earth to be flat, scientists have now shown that the earth is round”.

If you had asked your AI to respond to this question at any time point between 200 BC and 500 BC, the answer you received would have varied depending on how you trained your tool and what data you included.  

This illustrates the point that even when the data is overwhelming and everyone agrees on something, that doesn’t make it correct. 

Leaders in organisations, managing systems, are faced with this challenge all the time. We learn from the past, there is a lot of knowledge held both in systems and tacitly, and it is easy to trust the weight of the knowledge that exists and to take comfort in numbers and the majority vote.However, the issue is that ground-breaking new ideas typically originate from very few individuals within an organization.

As a leader you need to ensure that the accepted status quo doesn’t suffocate innovation. It’s important to ensure that unique, original and creative ideas are heard, and considered, regardless of the position of an individual in an organisation’s hierarchy. 

If you want to explore how to help your teams embrace innovation without fear, I would love to discuss.

Key takeaway: New ideas are often met with distrust. It is important have a process in place to  ensure they are not dismissed out of hand.

Thank you for reading. The end of the year is nigh, if you are looking to solve an issue before 31st December or to prepare for next year I’d love to discuss how I can help you either with your business strategy and operations or with your team and personal development goals.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Isabelle C. Widmer MD

Image credit: Natalija Smirnova @Unsplash.com

My aunt, her iPad and customer engagement insights

I hope you are making great strides in your goals towards the end of the year. If you need support to meet your targets or to prepare for 2024 I’d love to discuss how I can help you.

Today’s blog is focused on learning in all its many forms.

Today’s topics:

-My aunt, her iPad and customer engagement insights
-Trust and postgraduate training
-The airpod odyssey and a problem-solving lesson
-Leadership – how to use your insights to make an impact

My aunt, her iPad and customer engagement insights

“So here is the house” my aunt said, adding “they have taken out the palm tree since this photo was taken”. She continued “this is the walk I used to do every day it’s only a short walk from the house to the ocean”. As she spoke, her finger traced the road on google Streetview taking me on a tour of Island Bay in New Zealand.

My aunt is 87 years old. She raised children and worked most of her life as a homemaker. She plays bridge on her computer. She uses Zoom and Facetime. She is adept at using a computer, an iPhone, an iPad and obviously google maps. She stays in contact with her family around the world thanks to technology.

Watching her finger zoom down the road and rotate us left and right so we could see into people’s yards and see restaurant terraces she liked, and the view of the ocean, highlighted something that is often forgotten: A key predictor of ability is curiosity, need and interest in the subject. Some people are always learning, some people stop learning as adolescents.

Age does not translate to computer illiteracy, as little as youth translates to a love of all things technological.  

What does this mean for you in the industry?

For hiring and managing individuals: interest, curiosity and engagement may be more mportant predictors of future performance and the ability to develop than what is written on the CV. 

For patient engagement: Patients, like doctors, are not a homogeneous group. Being a  patient doesn’t mean you do not understand your disease, as little as being a doctor guarantees  comprehensive knowledge about every medical condition.

For HCP engagement topics: Do not make assumptions about your customers.  By all means consider your HCPs speciality, their geographical location, their language and culture, as you reflect on how to meet their needs, but check your assumptions and be open-minded. Keep in mind that data can sometimes lead to incorrect conclusions.

For example, it may be tempting to infer that because two nations embrace technology, they will welcome the same engagement channels. In one instance, a company attempted to engage with Japanese HCPs using video chat in Medical Affairs, after successfully launching this engagement channel in the US. Unfortunately, because even amongst family members video engagement was not customary at the time, there was no uptake. 

Words of wisdom from my friend Natasha Hansjee, who was cited as having said the following during an omnichannel customer engagement webinar she spoke at “are we asking HCPs what they want?” That is it in a nutshell. Make sure you are. 

Key take-aways: Look at the data, draw conclusions question your assumptions and ask your stakeholders what their needs are before you roll anything out. Be aware of bias and never discount the power of a curious mind. 

Trust and postgraduate training

I have a deep interest in continued education. I also have experience in the field having worked as programme director at the European Center for Pharmaceutical Medicine at Basel University on the postgraduate course.

In recent months the number of available online training courses has grown rapidly. A vast global audience of learners needs to be catered and many reputable universities are now involved in these programmes.

This year I have taken a number of training courses. This article is dedicated to one of them. According to the course brochure the course is run by a university that is world renowned in the field. The brochure states that the faculty will be providing recorded lectures, and training is supported by industry experts. The topic interests me, the university is world famous, and I sign up on a whim due to the university’s reputation and the expertise of the faculty.

Once I am signed-up it transpires that the course, beyond pre-recorded lectures provided by the university faculty, and all live engagement is provided by a secondary non-US based institution. While this institution has its own academic faculty, it is not officially recognized as an academic institution. Furthermore, the experts responsible for mentoring students have no affiliation with the university whose name is on the course brochure. 

I am currently disappointed by what I am experiencing, although some lectures are very good, so I am cautiously optimistic that the experience may improve.

In the meantime, as signing up for training is a financial and time commitment, here are my recommendations on what to ask before you sign up:

  1. Who is the faculty? University, industry experts, others?
  2. Who generates and controls the content?
  3. Who engages on assignments and mentors you?
  4. Is there another organisation involved in delivering the course, what is their engagement?
  5. What are the refund options

Since the answers to these questions may not be readily apparent from the course materials it is advisable to thoroughly investigate.

Key take-away: When considering paying for an online course be sure to investigate what you are subscribing to before enrolling.

The airpod odyssey and a problem-solving lesson
 
A friend left his airpod case on the train. He said “I guess I will just buy a new one, even though I know where it is”  as he tapped his iPhone.
 
Curious to see how good the tracker is, and wondering if we can retrieve the case, I drive him to the indicated location: the local train depot. Unfortunately, the case is not at lost and found and we decide, in my case reluctantly, that we cannot search the building. But then the tracker shows us that the case is on the move again. We follow its progress down the motorway towards Rheinfelden and across the border into Germany. There the dot stops.
 
My friend is ready to give up but provides the location when I ask him. Moments later I am leaving a message on the answering machine of the person listed at the address. My friend says, “Oh I didn’t know you can find someone’s phone number that way”. It made me smile. 
 
 I offer a finder’s fee but nobody calls me back so ultimately we accept defeat.  
 
Key take-away: You may not know a fast solution to your problem, because you don’t know the language, the culture, the country or that the tools exist. However, almost always someone else does and that information is available to you if you are willing to have a conversation.  

Leadership – how to use your insights to make an impact

Metrics are important, insights are important, but neither have value unless you know how to use the information to change and improve your business and that often involves convincing senior budget holders of the validity of your approach first.

At a conference recently someone presented the workload involved in pulling together content manually across geographies. She said, “wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could automate this, it takes so much time”.

I asked her why they hadn’t automated the activity. I cannot remember her answer, but the one I most frequently receive when I ask that question is  “We couldn’t make a change because we can’t get the budget”.

I suggested she show her leadership team the financial impact of the current situation and the potential savings automation could bring reframing her need to meet their need. 

Key take-way:  Different things matter to different people, improving financial outcomes and business engagement generally matters to budget holders, if you can frame your need in that context, you are more likely to succeed.

Thank you for reading, the end of the year is nigh, if you are looking to solve an issue before 31st December or to prepare for next year I’d love to discuss how I can help you either with your business strategy and operations or with your team and personal development goals.


Looking forward to hearing from you,

Isabelle C. Widmer MD

Image credit: Isabelle C. Widmer

Increase your reach to add value

Only two months to the end of the year, even less if I count the holidays, reminding me of many other recurring events that also regularly take me by surprise. Hoping your year has gone well so far and you have satisfying plans for the winter months ahead.

Today I am sharing some ideas that were sparked by recent trips.

Today’s blog topics:

-Don’t let cultural differences derail your transformation efforts
-How to increase your reach, grow your influence and add value
-How to pick the right partner for your Medical Information system needs
-Leadership: have you ever been told you need to be more vocal to get promoted?

Don’t let cultural differences derail your transformation effort

On a recent business trip, I came across a building site. I noticed the gravel strewn across the road, the haphazardly placed road signs, a general air of creativity around the site and remembered another building site I had photographed some weeks prior, which looked like a Lego set. No mess, no dust, no gravel, all sharp edges and incredible tidiness.

The two pictures above illustrate a truth that is easily forgotten, different countries apply different standards. And while as in the above example either approach is valid, people from one country may view another country’s approach as subpar or overly meticulous.

This is why if you plan to implement changes across territories you need to involve all stakeholders. Before you start you should agree on the issue at hand, its relevance and business impact. You should also agree on how addressing the issue will improve your business, what the financial impact of doing nothing is, and what the financial upside might be. Lastly, don’t neglect to consider local differences in how things are done and agree on how much flexibility there is for local implementation.

Be clear on how you will measure success. Using the building site example, ask how much it matters, that they look different, that the approach is different, or is it more important that the end product is delivered to specification, on budget and on time to a predefined standard?

In general, strive for as much harmonisation as possible to improve efficiency and effectiveness, while leaving some room for local adaptation if needed.

Key takeaway: Global transformation programmes don’t work when one location dictates to another.  A truly functional solution is only ever found when working together across teams and countries. 

How to increase your reach, grow your influence and add value

Over the years I have asked many individuals in Medical Information how they expand their influence, communicate their value and measure value add in their organisations. Overall, three recommendations emerged: “know your stakeholders so you know where to add value, validate your findings and communicate your activities”. Communication, after all, is a two-way street.

I have heard many concrete ideas over the years, both in stakeholder interviews and during European DIA Medical Information meetings. It seemed time to share a selection of them with you here:

  • Sharing tailored data and analytics: Georgios Koumakis, then Medical Manager in Roche Greece, shared how he identified which data and analytics his key stakeholders were interested in. He sent regular tailored data sets to each stakeholder group, including a short one pager to his local general manager.
  • Supporting product improvement: Lucia Fantini, at the time European Operations Manager for Lilly, shared her vision of a Medical Information golden circle of knowledge and how the Medical Information team analysed data and picked up signals from patient enquiries leading to device adaptations and a label change.
  • Engaging with cross-functional teams on strategy: in one interview a global medical affairs director once said “questioning the relevance of Medical Information services is like questioning the relevance of an organ” saying that consequently he ensures that the Medical Information function is represented in relevant leadership teams.
  • Networking and communicating: Most interview partners talked about the importance of great networking, some ideas included getting to know your audit team well, so that they can support your activities, visiting affiliate Medical Information members on site to strengthen relationships, and finally presenting at Medical Affairs and Commercial team off-site meetings to ensure key stakeholders understand what Medical Information teams do and how to partner with the function.

Another great idea was presented at the recent DIA meeting in Brussels in September 2023 by Andy Mackay, Director and Global Medical Information lead, at Idorsia. Andy gave a talk on “The Creation of an Interactive Online Learning Module to Raise the Profile of Medical Information” sharing how his team developed a tool to help other teams in the company understand the Medical Information function better and showcasing how his team can support individuals across the company.

Key takeaways: there are many ways to add value to your organisation and to communicate that value. Pick at least one approach that works for you and do it regularly. The only way to build your reputation in your organisation is to maintain a consistent presence.

Picking the right partner for your Medical Information system needs

During a recent dinner a group of us were discussing how to pick the correct Medical Information system. While we agreed that no system will make you happy all the time, there are some systems that are likely to make you consistently unhappy and should therefore be avoided.

Picking your perfect system will depend on your specific needs, however, one recommendation that I would sign whatever your needs are is the following “as you assess vendors and systems don’t base your expectations of system performance or features on your experience of what is practical or sensible. Until someone has confirmed a certain feature exists, or works the way you want it to, assume it does not”.

Below you can find some additional aspects it is worth considering when looking for a solution provider, these are areas that have caused problems for some of the individuals in the group, but that were not identified early enough.

The first question is what is your partner’s experience in the market you want a system in? Has your partner implemented systems internationally or only in one market? If internationally, how many international clients do they have and what size are these clients? Can the system be validated? Have companies run into issues when trying to validate the system and how was the issue solved/could it be solved? Can you see client references or speak to current clients? What type of support set-up is available? Do you need to buy individual licenses or not? How easy are process flows for typical activities? How configurable is the system? What type of implementation support is available if you do not have the capacity in-house? How will the system integrate with other systems such as your CRM or content management tools? While chemistry with your solution provider is important the group agreed that that this is not the key success factor.

Key takeaways: Selecting the correct IT system for your needs depends on many factors, your users, your business, your current IT infrastructure, the support capabilities in your IT team and the scope of your roll-out among others. It will save you millions of dollars in fees and employee costs if you consider carefully what you want, what you need and who can provide it to you before you choose. 

Leadership: Ever been told you need to be more vocal to get promoted?

Have you ever been told you are not present enough? Have you ever told employees that they are not visible enough, or contributing enough? Before you focus on fixing your own, or you employees’ failings, consider the following:

Sometimes employees are told that they don’t contribute enough at meetings, that they should be more active, proactive or visible and that future promotions depend on behavioural changes. In the comments section of a post on this topic a senior leader at a large pharma company wrote “we pay people to contribute, we expect them to manage themselves, this isn’t a leadership issue”.

The comment struck me because I don’t think it is as easy as that. Nobody works in a vacuum. How people perform and behave depends on many factors including the context they are in. Individuals need to show up, yes, but they also need to be given the space to show up in. As a coach and consultant, I have often observed that who speaks at meetings depends on who is present or absent, how homogeneous the team is, on the connections between the individuals in a meeting, each individual’s need to be seen and validated by the group, and the level of trust between group members as well as the distribution of talents and abilities amongst the individuals present.

Recently I experienced a situation where I was in a meeting where I didn’t end up contributing much of what I felt I could have shared. While I can easily make space for myself if I feel I need to or want to, in this situation as a workshop participant I chose silence. Not because I could not have spoken up or because I had nothing to say, but because after being spoken over a few times I decided to approach the situation with curiosity about the group’s dynamics and with an interest to see what if anything would happen.

My observation from this and previous experiences is that when diversity in a group drops below a certain threshold the majority tends to lead the conversation. There is comfort in numbers, there is comfort in similar opinions, and this makes it harder for other views to be heard. This is a well-known phenomenon.

Unfortunately, the majority, comfortable in a shared world view, may not notice that there are other views in the room. Gender, ethnicity, global, local and regional affiliations, being monolingual, or multilingual and the languages used for group work, socialisation differences and geographical locations all influence perspectives, some of these factors may be known, many of them may be hidden to the casual acquaintance or team colleague.

The ability of a team to collaborate well can be expanded if leaders remember the following: what happens in a room depends on who is there, the different histories that people bring to the table and beyond that what can be said, versus what may not be permissible. In addition, there are things that are known and spoken about, known but not spoken about, as well as things that are unknown, i.e., not consciously known, and thus cannot be addressed, but which are still present and may have a profound impact on the team in the room and how they interact.

Naturally when there is work to be done it is easy to not focus on this, however, to ensure that all voices are heard to the benefit of the business it helps if both leaders and individuals are aware of the dynamics influencing communication and take responsibility at their level.

Key takeaway: Team leads: Assess individual and team performance in the context of personalities and your company culture: Individuals: remember that feedback you receive may be a projection, take feedback in context, reflect on whether you have received the same feedback repeatedly, identify the key drivers for the issue and whether you can influence them yourself or need help.

Thank you for reading, I enjoy sharing my thoughts and I love hearing what piqued your interest or any feedback. If you are currently working on a project in the fields of medical, digital, systems, analytics, channels, or facing any team or personal challenges, feel free to reach out to me for a chat. I am always happy to explore how I might be able to support you.

Best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer MD

Image credits: Isabelle Widmer (ICW) London and Basel September and October 2023

AI see you

The leaves are turning yellow, the temperatures are cooler now, and my favourite season, fall, has finally arrived.

I have come across some interesting AI use cases that I wanted to share with you.

Today’s topics:

-AI see you
-AI generated images and copyright
-Business: AI generated content and human preference
-Leadership: Why you cannot divide and conquer in pharma

AI see you

You must leave your shopping trolley in the centre aisle” the security guard said as I entered the pharmacy. When I asked why he said “It’s to help prevent theft. People used to steal items by walking out with unpaid items in their trolleys. When we stopped them they expressed surprise and said the items must have fallen into the trolley as they brushed past them while walking past the shelf”.  

We have a new system in place now though” he said, pulling out his phone and indicating the cameras on the ceiling. He continued “the camera feed is monitored by AI, when there is suspicious activity, I receive a video clip”.  He pulled up some clips to demonstrate. In one a man took a product out of its packaging and slipped it into his pocket leaving the empty box on the shelf.  In another a couple leaving the pharmacy with purchased items exchanged the package contents with more expensive products they had placed close to the exit.

He said, “the system is good, but it is also learning all the time, I validate every clip I get to identify false positives, for example when someone puts their phone in their bag”, adding “of course I can’t personally stop everyone, but as the camera feeds from the shop, the mall and the parking lot are integrated, we can track people to their cars and get their number plates, at that point we involve the police and they take it from there”.

Key takeaways: 1) Everyone you meet can teach you something if you listen 2) The lower the margins the faster AI is adopted 3) Have a good business case for AI adoption and you will likely get funding.  

AI generated images and copyright

Needing an image to illustrate a post I thought I would try text to image system Dall E3. I had a clear image in my mind and after providing many prompts and failing to get the quality I was hoping for I finally resorted to adding “generate an image in the style of Magritte and Dali”. Many images were provided, but they either fell short of my expectations, or looked like collages made using other people’s work which had me worried about copyright infringements.

When using ChatGPT I ask for source documents, which I check to validate content veracity and origin. This isn’t possible with text to image systems which are typically trained using millions of images that may or may not be in the public domain. While trying to identify the training data set for Dall-E I couldn’t find the desired information on the providers website, but I did find some text telling me that any images I generate are mine to use as I wish.

However,  in 2023 several companies using AI to generate art have been sued for copyright infringement, in one case by visual artists in another by Getty images for using images to train AI models without permission or compensation (Ref 1, 2). And while I am not sure what this means for the end user I prefer to use content that I know I can reuse without any issues at all.

Further interesting reading can be found at the Verge – the scary truth about AI copyright is nobody knows what will happen next (3).  

Key takeaways: The field is moving quickly, whenever you use online generative AI tools with a view to sharing the content, consider carefully, and check multiple sources for guidance on use. Also for business use get guidance from your legal team and other internal experts. 

Reference articles:

1) Lawsuits accuse AI content creators of misusing copyrighted work, Blake Brittain, 17 Jan 2023 Reuters  2) Getty Image, 2023s AI art generator Stable Diffusion in the US for copyright infringement; James Vincent, 6 Feb 2023, the Verge  3)The scary truth about AI copyright is nobody knows what will happen next 15 Nov 2022; James Vincent, the Verge 

Business: AI generated content and human preference

There is widespread excitement about the potential to improve business efficiencies by using generative AI for example when writing scientific responses for customers. However, whenever optimisation is looked at it is important to take the human element into account.  

A recent article by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) did just that, exploring people’s perceptions, and bias, toward generative AI in the article “Human Favoritism, Not AI Aversion: People’s Perceptions (and Bias) Toward Generative AI, Human Experts, and Human-GAI Collaboration in Persuasive Content Generation” by Yunhao Zhang, Renee Gosline, published in 2023 (link). An article on the MIT website by Dylan Walsh posted in October 2023 outlines the key points (link), I have put together a short summary for your convenience below: 

The authors Zhang and Gosline performed the study with the goal of identifying how people perceive content depending on whether it was generated by AI, humans or a combination of both, eliminating bias in some of the assessors by blinding them to how the content they were evaluating had been created. 

The content was generated in one of four ways

1) Professional human authors only
2) GPT-4 generated ideas shaped into final content by professional human authors
3) Human generated initial content completed by GPT-4  
4) GPT-4 only generated content.

The content was assessed by three groups: Group 1 was unaware of different content generation approaches; Group 2 was told about the four different approaches and the Group 3 knew which  approach was responsible for the content they reviewed. 

When reviewers didn’t know how content had been generated they preferred AI generated content. However, assessments of content improved when reviewers were told that a human had been involved in its generation, showing what the study authors called “human favoritism”, however, knowing a text had been generated by AI only did not diminish reviewer’s initial assessments.  

From Dylan Walsh’s article: “The most direct implication is that consumers really don’t mind content that’s produced by AI. They’re generally OK with it,” Zhang said. “At the same time, there’s great benefit in knowing that humans are involved somewhere along the line — that their fingerprint is present. Companies shouldn’t be looking to fully automate people out of the process.”

Key takeaway: Generative AI is set to revolutionise content generation. Consider how you can balance process improvements with customer preference in your specific area as well as how to assess customer satisfaction objectively. 

Leadership: Why you cannot divide and conquer when engaging with customers in pharma

A while back I was caught in the rain as I biked to the recycling plant. Stopping at a tram shelter I passed the time by separating my disintegrated paper bag from my recycling bottles and throwing the bits of paper into the trash. A tram came to a stop, and far ahead, the driver got out of his cabin. He walked up to me and handing me a large plastic bag said, “it looks like this might come in handy”.

I was touched by that simple act of human kindness from an employee of the tram company.

In many professions I have worked in there has been an us versus them mentality. The belief that one team has the customers best interests at heart, while another team does not.  For example, when I was a physician, the nurses said “we truly care for patients, whereas you doctors just come and go”.

In pharma, medical affairs teams may feel commercial just cares about numbers, while commercial team members have been know to think that medical affairs colleagues slow them down and lack creativity and customer centricity.

While an employee’s specific department is significant to them, most customers are primarily concerned with resolving their issues. A patient who departs the hospital in good health typically appreciates all the staff they’ve encountered. Similarly, a healthcare professional’s perception of a pharmaceutical company is shaped by her interactions with its employees, regardless of whether they work in sales, medical, or clinical development.

Case in point, I feel positively disposed towards the entire tram company because of a single positive interaction with an employee that made a huge difference for me.

So, while I have seen leaders build strong teams using an “us versus them” dynamic, I think instead of fighting for the “customers’ favour” it makes more sense to identify customer needs and then to work together across functions to meet those needs. 

Key takeaway: Customers perceive a company as a whole and company employees as company brand ambassadors, regardless of the individual employee’s function. 

Thank you for reading, I enjoy sharing my thoughts and I love hearing what piqued your interest or any feedback. If you are currently working on a project in the fields of medical, digital, systems, analytics, channels, or facing any team or personal challenges, feel free to reach out to me for a chat. I am always happy to explore how I might be able to support you.

Best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer MD

Image credit: Alex Knight @unsplash

Medical Information: don’t get lost in transformation

After a week in Brussels, I am now happily back home.

Last week’s DIA Medical Information and Communications meeting was fabulous, we had more attendees than ever before, the event was a success from beginning to end, great shares, some wonderful new contacts and inspiring presentations.

It will take me some time to process it all but I will share my key takeaways from the meeting with you in future blog posts.

Today’s topics:

-Metrics and insights – a vending machine example
-Medical Information transformation – how not to get lost
-Business: Are you using tech to bridge or block your customers’ path?
-Leadership: effective transformations

Metrics and insights – a vending machine example

At the airport two vending machines stood, side by side. They were stocked with similar items, only one was full, and one was empty. Both machines are managed by the same company.

If the performance of the machines is monitored independently, with different teams involved, they might not connect the information. One team may overlook any issues with the fully stocked machine, or incorrectly conclude that stock is not moving, because of the location of the machine, or unappealing products, while another team, focused on the empty machine, could mistakenly attribute it to their superior product selection.

Both teams would be looking at simple metrics, trying to draw relevant business conclusions from that data set. This is a frequent occurrence in companies when data sets of interactions with the same customer group are not integrated and are assessed in isolation.

Wanting some water, I approached the machines. The full machine had the product I wanted, but it didn’t take credit cards. Like many people nowadays I rarely carry cash, so I couldn’t buy anything. Unfortunately, the empty machine didn’t have what I needed, so no sale was made, despite there being a willing customer with a credit card on hand.

The reason the vending machine was full was simple: customers couldn’t access the products.

Key takeaways: If you look at your data in isolation you can neither understand your business environment nor adapt your strategy to enhance your business. Metrics represent raw data, while insights emerge when you combine this data with your understanding of additional factors from diverse sources, revealing what truly matters.

Medical Information Transformation – how not to get lost

Last week I got lost between Brussels airport and the hotel. It’s embarrassing I know.

I hopped on a train. Because I was distracted by thoughts of my lost luggage and the conference ahead it took me a while to note that the train was speeding through open countryside. This seemed odd, so I asked a couple on the train to confirm my direction of travel. They confirmed that “yes, you are heading towards Brussels”. When we got to Leuven it became apparent that I was not.

As the next station was fast approaching decisions on next steps needed to be taken fast. Luckily another local helped me: he identified the stop I should get off at, the train I needed to switch to and which platform I would take it from. With little time to spare his help was invaluable in helping me course correct.

I used this example when talking about implementing changes in companies. Often the roadmap seems straightforward, the task appears manageable and the topics clear, whether it be the implementation of a new IT system, working with different cultures and languages, content revision strategies, cross-functional collaboration or any one of the other myriad topics that teams face when improving how they work.

However, even if what you want to do seems simple, if you don’t know the terrain it can be more challenging that you might imagine. This is why people hire guides and city maps have circles with “you are here” I have experienced this many times, the first time I take a route I ask for directions, and I still sometimes get lost, but once I know the route I can do it blindfolded at midnight.

Key takeaways: Even if you know where you are and where you are going, and you have a map to follow, if you haven’t taken the path before, you are more likely to get lost. Plan in extra time and budget and hire a guide if you don’t have the experience you need in your team.

Business: Are you using tech to bridge or block your customers’ path?

Last week at Brussels airport travelers clapped as their luggage arrived. It struck me then that we now celebrate things we used to take for granted.

While the world celebrates automation, and conference presentations are all about efficiency gains through digital means and the power of AI to improve things beyond recognition, my customer experience in the real world is often unsatisfactory.

Technological advances can be wonderful, provided they are used intelligently and they are used in conjunction with a customer service foundation that works. Unfortunately, often tech is implemented before processes have been improved in order to support it, or it is used as a barrier instead of as a bridge. A classic example is that new customers can always reach the sales team fast, while existing customers often struggle to reach anyone.

Beyond using tech as a barrier, companies often also use tech to provide services that do not serve the customer. A key consideration here is “just because it is easy and cheap to implement, and it keeps you in constant contact with your customer, it may not serve your customer and your customer can tell.”

Classic examples of services that do not serve include daily reminders that I booked a restaurant or that I will soon be staying in a hotel, or the invitation to download a hotel app so I can check in ahead of time, which, according to a colleague changed her check-in experience at the hotel not at all.

Ultimately what customers want is straightforward and identical across industries: a fast tailored solution to their problem without extra mental load.

I experienced an almost perfect example – Lufthansa put my luggage on a later flight, they sent me a text message telling me where it was and when to expect it, they also sent a link so I could register my delivery location. I was impressed. Only the app didn’t work, so I went to a service kiosk, entered all my data and then was told that delivery may take nine days. The gentleman at the kiosk recommended I pick my luggage up myself.

Key takeaways: Technological solutions cannot compensate for underlying system errors so ensure your business foundation is solid before you implement. Make sure whatever you implement works. Automation cannot replace a human connection, automate with care.

Leadership: effectively leading transformations

Last week during the DIA Medical Information conference I ran a workshop on operational excellence and strategic alignment. I provided participants with a tool to self-assess digital and harmonization maturity within their function and organization.

A participant said, “from the perspective of the global team we are fully harmonized and digitally mature, from the perspective of the non-global teams the situation is very different”.

The situation highlights something that happens frequently when transformation programs are run from the “head” downwards. If your head, or global organization, sees a goal on the horizon and decides that that is the destination, but the “body” and the “feet” and the “gut brain” of the organization, i.e. everyone else, is not informed nor involved in designing and charting the journey, what happens is the head believes that a change has occurred, because it has “thought” its way there, whereas the rest of the organism has remained exactly where it was before, growing disengaged and frustrated in the process.

If this is where you landed, the problem is, you may not even be aware of it. Also, if after a long time of running a transformation programme this is where you are at, it will take a big effort to get back on track.

Key takeaways: Good transformation programs take time, the involvement of all stakeholders and clarity of vision and approach. Be clear on how you will approach your transformation and ask anyone consulting to you or supporting you how they approach and monitor transformation success.

Thank you for reading, I enjoy sharing my thoughts and I love hearing what piqued your interest or any feedback. If you are currently working on a demanding project in the fields of medical, digital, systems, analytics, channels, or facing any team or personal challenges, feel free to reach out to me for a chat. I am always happy to explore how I might be able to support you.

Best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer MD

Photo credit: Isabelle C. Widmer – Airport Basel-Mulhouse

Brussels Med Info meeting sneak peek, presentation secrets from the African bush and why diversity matters

I am on the way to Brussels for the DIA Medical Information and Communications meeting, where I hope to meet many of you later this week. This year marks my 10th anniversary as a programme committee member and my 10th anniversary as an entrepreneur. Time flies and a lot has happened.

Today’s newsletter includes a variety of topics covering team building, startup-pitches and diversity, how to present and of course, as next week is the DIA meeting a sneak peek at what I will be talking about.I look forward to seeing you next week but if you cannot make it, then you can catch the webinar I will run after the meeting:

-Medical Information set-up considerations – pre Brussels DIA meeting sneak peek
-Great presentation secrets from the African bush
-Business: Why are there no women on your team?
-Leadership: A lacrosse captain’s team building approach

Medical Information set-up considerations – pre Brussels DIA meeting sneak peek 

At this week’s DIA Med Info meeting in Brussels I will share considerations for designing your Medical Information set-up. While the key pain points in Medical Information are common across companies,  there is no single solution that works for everyone. 

The top ten issues that leaders face when implementing Medical Information operations are, in no particular order: content generation and management,  language,  IT systems for content and query management, data management and integration,  analytics and insights generation, digital maturity, ideal operational set-up, local-global collaboration,  interdisciplinary collaboration, and to provide value to customers and demonstrate value add to company stakeholders.

While, as mentioned above, the topics are universal the solutions are always individual.

Considerations that I find valuable when designing a company’s set-up include the size of the company’s product portfolio, the geographies involved, key products, product life-cycle, company maturity, indications, target market size and key customer types, all of which can vary significantly depending on a company’s portfolio.

In the session on Medical information Set-up I will share how I approach the identification of a tailored set-up and I will provide a road map for the audience to use as a starting point for their personal journey. Later on participants can either expand their thinking further in a workshop with me on operations and strategic alignment, or, alternatively,  they can join Marie Luise Helmich to discuss digital topics or Sarah Dunnett to explore insights and analytics.

If you can’t come to the meeting but want to discuss set-up considerations, please contact me for a chat or stay tuned for my upcoming webinar on the topic.  

Key takeawayWhen considering your best Medical Information set-up, the challenges are universal but the solutions are always individual.

Great presentation secrets from the African bush and TED

As you probably know I am on the board of the telemedicine charity The Virtual Doctors. Each time I watch the founder Huw Jones speak about what led to the creation of the Virtual Doctors I am touched, even though I have watched the video many times.

In fact, Huw’s presentation is one of the key reasons I joined a charity that enables UK doctors to provide healthcare professionals in rural African communities with a second opinion. Huw’s presentation invariably makes me cry, but I could never put my finger on what was so special and impactful about it, until I recently read a book on TED talks.

Key elements of a great talk include a story that is unique to you, a message about something you are passionate about, a glimpse of your vulnerability as a human, and a journey you can take your audience on, allowing them to share your experience. Done well, it can be magical.

In Huw’s story a pregnant woman and her child died, despite his best efforts to help. The experience changed him forever, and it made him want to change the world, so that less patients would suffer from lack of access to healthcare. He founded the charity the Virtual Doctors and we are working on making his dream of better access to healthcare a reality one country at a time.

You can experience the story that changed Huw’s life and see what a fantastic talk looks like here.

Key takeaway: When presenting make it personal, share your passion and take listeners on a journey.

Business: “Why are there no women on your team?”

This was the first question a jury member and potential investor asked at the end of a pitch at the recent AI in Healthcare event in Basel, Switzerland. This is not the question you want at the end of a pitch where your goal is to raise money. The story highlights how much the world has changed.

Twenty years ago at a Roche event an org chart of a senior leadership team was presented.  All the leaders were men, all the administrative staff were women, the photos on the org chart made it really hit home.  It is the type of thing you notice when you are a woman at a training event for high potential future leaders. Times have changed since then and while women are still underrepresented in senior positions, they are now present. And it now matters. Investors male and female alike notice when your leadership team is all male. Female talent looking to join a company will assess the likelihood of being promoted based on your org charts. Even companies looking to partner with you will take note, because their shareholders also take note. 

It seems that while in the past our presence was noticed, now it is our absence. This is progress.

However, I have it from reliable sources, that even extremely senior women are sometimes still asked to take minutes in a meeting, until the men in the meeting have figured out they are not the admin, and many women I know, myself included,  have been deterred from buying from a vendor, bank, estate agent etc. because the salesperson we engaged with focused on our male companions assuming them to be the key decision maker and purse-string holder. 

Luckily, times are changing and in the younger generation the changing mindset is especially noticeable. At lacrosse training recently a friend’s teenage son, Tom, noticing that a male colleague didn’t pass me the ball, preferring to keep it and to score in a one man show, asked me “why did the guy you were training with not pass the ball to you?” The answer that was obvious to me “I am a female player, he worried that we wouldn’t score had he passed to me“, and of course I could be wrong, apparently did not occur to Tom.  

Key takeaways: 1) In business, diversity is no longer merely a “nice to have” because a lack of diversity and the awareness of the value of women as customers can hurt your bottom line in various ways 2) Many women control significant budgets, hold senior positions or represent a key potential collaborator, it is worth making sure your sales leads don’t dismiss them out of hand 3) When in a meeting where men and women are present, never assume the women are “tea girls”.

Leadership: A lacrosse captain’s team building approach

I have been playing lacrosse for a very long time. I don’t play particularly well, but I love it and it’s fun. Years ago, I was in a women’s lacrosse team. There was only a small group of players and a core group of close-knit regular players. Other players came and went but the team never grew and at some point the team disbanded and all the women, apart from myself, stopped playing.

At about that time, the club gained a new captain. He was convinced that a proper club should have both men’s and women’s teams. As there were no women left, apart from me left, he integrated the women into the men’s practice sessions.

He started a recruitment drive. He recruited the second female player while in a bar watching baseball. She has been playing for a year now, she plays with teams in Zurich, in Bern and in Germany. She is absolutely dedicated. She loves it. She is great and she has brought more people who in turn have brought others. We now regularly have 15 players in our weekly trainings. Considering that lacrosse in Switzerland is a niche sport and we have just come out of a pandemic this is a notable achievement.

So, what did the captain do to grow from a struggling group to a thriving club? Some things spring to mind. He is passionate about lacrosse. He is inclusive. He integrates younger and older players. He exemplifies a spirit of passion for the game but also for the team. He found creative solutions. He trains the team as one, we play together, we have fun together and there is a spirit of camaraderie and connection. He also uses positive reinforcement: when people sign up he celebrates; if they forget he reminds them. He doesn’t ever use negative reinforcement or control. When new players come he focuses on them, introduces them to the game and makes them feel welcome. There is no inner circle, there is no “clique”. It is one for all and all for one, or that is what it feels like.

Two years ago, I thought of stopping as I had torn most of my ligaments in my left ankle. I was worried about going back, because I didn’t think I could add much to the practice. Thanks to regular check-ins from the captain, and his refusal to delete my name off the player’s log, I felt encouraged enough and welcome enough to go back. Once I did I remembered what I love about it, how much fun the group is. Now I don’t miss a Wednesday if I can help it and I have started bringing people along too.

Everyone who comes to play comes again. Even those of us who thought we would stop are now watching lacrosse videos in our spare time to improve our game.
His spirit is infectious, the club’s spirit is infectious and that I think is the true sign of a leader. Someone who can communicate his passion and show people his vision, who can take people along for the ride, making it about everyone, not just about himself and cultivating other leaders to stand beside him.

Key takeaway: have a vision, be passionate, work with your team, lead from behind, use positive reinforcement and make sure you have fun while you are at it.

Thank you for reading, I enjoy sharing my thoughts and I love hearing what piqued your interest or any feedback. If you are currently working on a demanding project in the fields of medical, digital, systems, analytics, channels, or facing any team or personal challenges, feel free to reach out to me for an informal chat. I am always happy to explore how I might be able to support you.

Best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer MD

Photo credit: Sergey Pesterev @Unsplash