How To Make Digital Scientific Content More Accessible, A Medical Information Call Center Experience

I have just “got back” from a virtual Medical Affairs and Scientific Communications (MASC) meeting, held on 21st-23rd March in Orlando, Florida. While I didn’t miss the travel experience – planes, masks, navigating gargantuan US airports trying to find my rental car, and jet lag – I did miss seeing everyone after a two-year hiatus.

However, I experienced a well-run hybrid meeting and heard some interesting presentations. I will share some learnings from the conference, as always, along with my own thoughts.

Today’s topics:

– Lessons from horseracing – focus on the finish line
– Digital innovation – accessibility of scientific content
– Effective delegation means letting go
– Can we celebrate both process and customer centricity? A medical information call centre experience

Last but not least this year’s European Medical Information and Communications Conference will be held in Sevilla on the 5th-6th October 2022. The call for abstracts just went out. If you have a topic you want to submit please get in touch.

Lessons From Horseracing – Focus On The Finish Line

Humans, like horses, are social animals. Running with the herd feels safe, and lulls us into thinking we are on the right track. And while we might be, we are unlikely to be charting new territory. So while understanding how companies approach their customers is important, understanding your company and your environment and what your customers want, is more likely to put you ahead of the field.

Three things we can learn from horseracing.

First: Before every race, a jockey assesses the competition. That is: who he will be competing against in that race, on that day. He doesn’t compare his novice racehorse to a Grand National champion.

Second: On the day of the race, the jockey assesses the racecourse and the vicinity. Is the ground muddy and slippery, or dry and very hard? Is there anything in the vicinity of the course that could spook his horse, such as flags that might wave in the wind, for example?

Third: A jockey understands his mount. He knows how his horse performs in mud, where to place his horse relative to the field to get top performance, when to push, when to fall back. In short, he knows, how to ride to win.

Translated to business, this means: know your company, understand your environment, know your competition and benchmark wisely. Don’t assume a big company is doing a better job than you in a certain area because they are bigger. Remember, what works for global giants like Roche, Novartis or Pfizer, is unlikely to be a good fit for a biotech company with a small footprint, who is only just starting to engage HCPs. While learning from others is great, learning from yourself also has value. At MASC a presenter said, “94% of the industry is operating contact centres for customers for 12 hours a day, 8am to 8pm, but most of these companies don’t assess their customer contact data to understand whether this makes sense.”

There is safety in doing what everyone else does, but that doesn’t mean it is right for you.

Remember, if the riders in the image focused on each other rather than on the finish line, they would all just crash into one another, but nobody would finish the race.

Digital Innovation – Accessibility Of Scientific Content

During MASC, Marie-Ange Noue from EMD Serono led a session on digital innovation in the communication of scientific content. Speaker, Joanna Rizos, Associate Director Med Affairs, Eli Lilly Canada shared Lilly Canada’s efforts to make medical online content more accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities. Eli Lilly is a member of the valuable 500, a global collective of companies who are innovating for disability inclusion. In addition, in 2021 when Joanna’s team was getting ready to launch their Med Info website they learned that the website and associated content needed to meet accessibility standards as outlined in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which adopts a stepwise approach to entrench accessibility in all domains by 2025. According to Joanna’s presentation, 1.3 billion people worldwide have a disability, 253 million people of these are visually impaired, and 80% of disabilities are non-visible. According to the social model of disability, disabilities are not caused by an impairment alone but by the barriers put up in society.

One of the most common challenges faced by users with access needs is that websites are too crowded. Additional considerations for accessibility of content include website navigation, the visuals, the links, and calls to action in the content. Technical standards for websites are outlined in the WWW consortium, while accessibility standards can be found in the web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG 2.0).

Taking these guidelines into account the Lilly team focused on clean layouts, easy to read text fonts and good contrast. Lilly’s digital team focused on technical requirements, while the Medical Information team concentrated on content including medical letters, videos, FAQs and visuals. Screen readers were employed to make text more accessible, however, 25% of Lilly’s content comprised graphs, images and videos. One WCAG stipulation for content accessibility is that websites offer text alternatives for featured images.

The Lilly team addressed this by adding subtitles and captions to video content and alt text to all images to provide access to screen readers. Lilly employees were engaged as internal experts to assess the content for accessibility. Following these activities, the Lilly team has gone on to provide accessibility training across Lilly med info. Expert users have been brought in to share the user experience, alerting the team to the experience and how the content and its presentation impacts different user groups.

While this topic is very much in focus at Lilly, a poll of the audience at MASC to assess whether other companies are taking steps to make online medical content more accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities (accommodation for blindness, low vision, deafness, hearing loss, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity, and combinations of these) showed that other attendees are either not working on this topic currently or are not aware of ongoing efforts at their companies. Responses to the question, “Is this currently in focus at your company?” were: Yes (5%), No (44%), Not sure (50%) 38 votes.

Effective Delegation Means Letting Go

One of my most beloved managers and now a dear friend once asked me to write a document. She gave me carte blanche. I wrote the document. I handed it in. When I got it back, it was entirely rewritten. We had a frank conversation. I said I’d always deliver projects to her specifications if they are provided. However if I am given the freedom to work according to my own direction and this work is then rewritten, that is something I find upsetting. Thanks to a trusting relationship and the willingness to find a path that suited both our personalities and preferences, we found an approach that worked for both of us. Like all skills, delegation is not a given; it takes practice, the courage to communicate when things are challenging, and it isn’t always easy – as I learned when I founded my own company.

My mentor, Traugott, who was 88 when he started mentoring me, had grown a family company from 50 to 600 people in the course of his career. Sadly, he is gone, but his company lives on as his work legacy. And his memory and wise words are always with me. He told me to focus on my core strengths and delegate everything else. I follow his advice and am grateful to be surrounded by talented people who do the things well that I can’t or don’t like to do: Jane and Belinda handle admin, Barry does the website, Christian manages finances, Datarun manages all my IT activities and Mark does design. Delegating has, for me too, been a path of growth. Initially, when discussing my website with Mark, I had so many ideas. I would send him screenshots and photographs, I was enthusiastic. And as it is my company I was very involved. But in working with him, and through his gentle feedback, I came to understand that my job is the vision and his job is the visuals. So I let him get on with it, and I am very happy with the result.

What I have learned over the years. Effective delegation depends on four things: 1) Identifying an individual you trust to handle the project 2) Clearly communicating your expectations regarding the outcome 3) Accepting that no two people will perform tasks identically and if what is delivered is of high quality but different to how you would have approached it, then that is fine too 4) Managing your anxiety about the outcome and any linked urge to micromanage your team.

Can We Celebrate Both Process And Customer Centricity? A Medical Information Call Centre Experience

What processes do your Medical Information teams follow when a call comes in that is not related to medical information. Let’s say, it’s the plumber calling to speak to your company’s maintenance team. Is your team empowered to reroute that call to the correct individual in the company? I recently called a company looking to speak with someone. I was erroneously connected to someone in security on my first try, who recommended I call back and press 0 to reach an operator. This put me through to Medical Information, for some bizarre reason. I highlighted that my call had reached them in error and asked if there was a switchboard they could transfer me back to. I was informed that it is not possible to transfer any calls from the Medical Information team. The gentleman was charming, friendly and courteous; he logged my call, said he would send it on internally, and that I would be contacted by email. Processes describing how to handle Med Info enquiries are important, processes describing how to handle non-medical information enquiries that reach your Medical Information team are also important. Documenting all calls, ensuring call logs match system logs, is great, and noting calls that come in to Med Info by mistake is also useful from an audit perspective. However, from a customer’s point of view, having provided all necessary details to the Medical Information expert, I would have welcomed a transfer to the central switchboard, followed ideally by being connected to the individual I was seeking to speak to.

I hope, as ever, that my blog provides you with some useful insights. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And of course, if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, do reach out and we can arrange to chat.

Very best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Taylor Sondgeroth Unsplash