EMWA virtual conference 2021: the PLS highlights so far

Adeline Rosenberg

Plain language summaries (PLSs) of peer-reviewed medical journal publications could well be the hot topic of the year in academic publishing. With the European Medical Writers Association (EMWA) virtual conference 2021 nearly wrapped up, here’s a rundown of the key PLS takeaways from the conference so far.

At Tuesday’s opening session, Open Pharma co-founder and Oxford PharmaGenesis CEO Chris Winchester presented the working draft of the Open Pharma recommendations for plain language summaries of peer-reviewed medical journal publications. In short, clarity supports inclusion, and in doing so, PLSs can increase reach, enhance engagement and comprehension, and drive real-world impact. To achieve this, the medical writing industry needs consensus and a universal foundation in place to promote uptake among sponsors and medical writers. Keep an eye out for the final version of the recommendations, which is coming soon.

Following the introduction of the Open Pharma recommendations, a dedicated PLS seminar series was held on Friday. The session, which was facilitated by Martin Delahunty (Company Director of Inspiring STEM Consulting) and Slávka Baróniková (Scientific Publications Lead at Galápagos and EMWA Conference Director), featured perspectives on PLSs from a range of stakeholder groups. Across the four presentations and during the panel discussion, there was a shared understanding that PLSs are for everyone and can benefit everyone, including time-poor clinicians, policymakers, researchers and the public as well as patients and caregivers. 

Lisa Chamberlain James (Owner and Director of Trilogy Writing & Consulting) presented the medical writing perspective. Lisa highlighted the need to produce PLSs routinely and to consider them early on in the process of planning a publication. To increase uptake, medical writers must advocate the use and benefit of PLSs to sponsors, call on journals to require PLSs, and engage with best practices such as those suggested by the upcoming Open Pharma recommendations to provide standardization across the industry. Lisa believes that, ultimately, “writing for non-specialists is part of the evolution of the medical writing profession”.

Andrea Bucceri (Publications Development Manager at Dove Medical Press) provided the publishers’ perspective. Dove Medical Press journals first started publishing PLSs in 2016 as a credible source of information for non-specialist audiences to enable clinician­­–patient conversations. The introduction of the practice was driven by collaboration across stakeholders. Dove Medical Press PLSs are typically text based, between 150 and 250 words, and fully peer reviewed for their quality and lay friendliness as well as their scientific content.

Anne-Marie Hamoir (Senior Consultant at Patient Focused Medicines Development [PFMD]), presented PFMD’s patient engagement quality guidance framework and the PLS co-creation How-To Guide (currently in development), and explained how medical writers can use these tools when writing for patients.

Finally, Angela Sykes (Publications Standards and Best Practices Lead at Pfizer) shared pharma’s perspective. Pfizer piloted a PLS programme for oncology congress abstracts that produced 185 abstracts. Since introducing PLSs, Pfizer continues to see an increased interest and trust in science from the public, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The full EMWA virtual conference 2021 will close on 28 May, after nearly a month of workshops and seminars on all things medical writing.