Open Pharma recommendations for plain language summaries of peer-reviewed medical journal publications (2)

25 September, 2021

Dear Adeline

Many thanks for your publication with recommendations on developing and sharing plain language summaries of peer-reviewed medical journal publications.

I'd linke to use this as a starting point for wider discussion about communicating research to the general public in general, and pharamaceutical communications in particular.

With regard to the first, I would agree that 'medical research is for everyone and plain language summaries of research publications are a means of sharing research in an accessible and inclusive way'. I look forward to hear your and others' views on how this can be done. A few journals do already include plain language summaries. Are these fully inclusive or does more need to be done? At theother end of the spectrum, we have all read papers that are so riddled with jargon and flowery language that they are not readily intelligible even to health professionals.

With regard to pharmaceutical communication, you write: 'The drive to maintain pharmaceutical industry standards and ensure compliance may not be relevant to all authors seeking to write plain language summaries, so direct references to pharmaceutical standards on direct-to-patient marketing are omitted from the recommendations.'

and then: 'The historically slow uptake of plain language summaries within the pharmaceutical industry has largely been due to concerns over direct-to-patient marketing. Distributing plain language summaries to patients and patient organizations could be perceived by some as a promotional practice.'

I would be interested to hear your and others' views on pharmaceutical communications. Some of us would argue that pharmaceutical communications are largely designed to promote/sell the drug while meeting current regulations. In practice this means that pharma companies need to be extremely careful in their use of language, to maximise their marketing while not fauling foul of regulations. This is one reason the marketing budgets of big pharma are so huge (some 28 billion US dollars - almost as much as the whole amount spent on research and development). In LMICs, the regulatory framework is often weak and undenforceable, allowing pharmaceutical companies to bias their communications for more commercial gain.

We need pharmaceutical companies and we need them to be transparent. Currently they are seen largely as part of the problem rather than part of the solution with regards to reliable information on medicines. How can we change this?

Neil Pakenham-Walsh, HIFA Coordinator,

Joint Coordinator HIFA Project on Information for Prescribers and Users of Medicines