Solving the Impact Puzzle

Measuring the impact of research articles and other publications is one of the most vexing challenges that the medical affairs community faces. These impacts are notoriously difficult to identify, collect, and analyze. The traditional method of assessing impact — looking at the impact factor of the journal that publishes an article — provides little value for medical affairs teams seeking to pursue a more activist role.


Both traditional and newer publication-impact measurement tools typically fail in accurately assessing the success of a medical affair team’s efforts to develop thought leadership, publish data from clinical trials, and provide educational information. Fortunately, taking a broader approach to content distribution may help solve the issue of measuring the impact of publication activities. Using a range of publication solutions can ensure that a medical affairs team achieves its ultimate goal — successfully delivering critical information and data to researchers, physicians, regulators, and other parties who need it.  


Finding value in impact measurements


Providing high-quality scientific knowledge to various audiences is a key role for medical affairs teams. Impact measurements can provide essential data points to build a better understanding of the reach and effect of the scientific knowledge they disseminate. They can also help medical affairs teams identify the right opinion leaders to help communicate information more effectively. 


Understanding impact can also provide insights into best practices for medical affairs. Armed with a grasp of article, author, and journal impacts, a team can make well-informed, data-based adjustments in communication strategies. A team can also respond more quickly to changes in the science and provide insights culled from the field.


Impact measurement tools, however, have a variety of shortcomings, including questionable reliability, lack of uniformity and clarity, and difficulty in application — all of which prevent them from providing a full picture and true measure of the impact of scientific communication. The lack of trusted impact data makes it more challenging for a medical affairs team to accomplish its long-term objectives and to determine the ROI of its communications program.


Traditional measurement tools


Measuring the impact of scholarly research has always been challenging, particularly in the health sciences. Many different types of metrics have traditionally been used to assess the impact of articles, authors, and journals, including:


  • Citation tracking: These tools add up the number of times an article or an author has been cited by other scientists. Google Scholar and PLoS are among the sources that provide citation-tracking measurements.
  • H-index: This tool assesses an author’s scientific research output by plotting on an x-y axis how many articles an author has published and how many times the author’s articles have been cited.
  • Impact factor: These tools quantify the relative importance of individual journals. Journal Impact Factor, Eigenfactor, and SCImago Journal Rank are examples of this type of metric.

These various tools have many weaknesses, including the length of time it takes for data to accumulate and for citations to appear in articles. They also omit research discussions that are stimulated and shared more rapidly via blog posts, social media, and other online channels.


New measurement tools


The inadequacy of the tools traditionally used to measure the impact of health research has led to new measurements that seek to provide a more complete picture of article impact for scholarly research articles, including in the health sciences field.


Article-level metrics, also known as altmetrics, assess how scholarly articles are being shared, used, and discussed in blog posts, links, bookmarks, social media posts, and publisher sites. Altmetrics are somewhat controversial because their measurements may be misleading. Assessing the scientific impact of social media posts and other types of online activities can produce ambiguous conclusions. Because they measure activity around a single article rather than providing a journal-level view of the activity that an article generates, altmetrics are especially inadequate tools for medical affairs, publication planners, and medical communications.


New proprietary measurement tools, designed specifically for health sciences, use algorithms to analyze scholarly impact and expertise. For example, Share of Scientific Voice measures a wide range of factors, including Phase IV clinical studies, pharmacoeconomics and health outcomes research studies and analyses, and publications.


Content Distribution Options


How a medical affairs team communicates with stakeholders is vital. Print journals remain one of the most trusted and successful channels of delivering information to audiences. An effective communications plan, however, should include additional elements.


If social media and other channels that lend themselves to sharing offer a more rapid view of the impact of content, then medical affairs should consider using them. For example, if a company researcher presents new developments at a meeting, it may be sensible for medical affairs to produce a traditional supplement using the information presented at a meeting. In addition, the publishing plan could include a social media posting of some or all of the presentation’s content, a thought-leadership article on the impact of the findings on daily practice, or an ancillary commentary on the health economics or initial health outcomes data of a new therapeutic approach or class of drugs.


Pursuing a broader communications plan can help a medical affairs team overcome the inadequacies of impact measurement tools.


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