Publications planning post-pandemic


How COVID-19 is shaping the publications landscape

Clearly the delay/postponement/cancellation of clinical trials owing to the COVID-19 pandemic will have an impact on the availability of data to communicate, but this is not the only way in which the pandemic is reshaping the publications landscape.

Data availability

Even when planned communications are affected with a delay or complete lack of new data, it may be possible to address data gaps through other means such as secondary analyses and real-world evidence generation and/or to provide readers with valuable expert perspectives via review articles/opinion pieces/brief reports, including – potentially – articles focused on the impact of COVID-19 in your therapy area. For more information on the role real-world evidence can play, please see COVID-19 brings real-world evidence center stage and The role of real-world evidence in the COVID-19 era.

Author availability and responsiveness

While some researchers, clinicians and biostatisticians are busy responding to the urgent COVID-19 pandemic (or are personally affected), delayed/postponed/cancelled clinical trials, restricted travel and a decline in patients seeking medical advice for other conditions mean that others (mainly those non-hospital based) have time and may welcome the opportunity to collaborate on publications.

If you are working in a therapy area in which author availability and responsiveness have been diminished by the pandemic, there are a couple of things to consider:

  • For such situations, the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) has provided recommendations for relaxing authorship criteria1.
  • Clearly, we need to be cognizant of the need for authors to prioritize the pandemic and take this into account in publication timelines.

 Standard ICMJE author criteriaISMPP recommendations for when author responsiveness is affected by COVID-19
1Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; ANDThis criterion remains unchanged
2Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; ANDThis criterion remains unchanged
3Final approval of the version to be published; ANDFollowing a reasonable period of documented attempts to reach the author, proceed with submission to the peer-review journal or congress, including the affected individual as a byline author who has previously achieved ICMJE Criterion 1 and ICMJE Criterion 2. It is understood that inclusion of the individual as an author shall be agreed upon by all authors who have fully met the four ICMJE Criteria. It is further understood that the work can be submitted provided that other authors approve the publication and accept responsibility for the work, as is required by ICMJE Criterion 4
4Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolvedAs a matter of full disclosure, provide an accompanying statement to the journal or congress to transparently represent that ICMJE Criterion #3 and/or Criterion #4 were not fully achieved by the affected author
ICMJE, International Committee of Medical Journal Editors; ISMPP, International Society for Medical Publication Professionals.

Congress cancellations and postponements

Congress plans for 2020—and likely beyond—have altered significantly in light of the pandemic. However, opportunities are abound to harness this new virtual era for congresses. For more information on the impact on congresses, please see Unlocking virtual congresses, and suggestions on how best to address your publications plans, please see Effective congress planning for publications teams.  Essentially, your congress plans may need to evolve, but you should still plan for your data presentations—and scientific exchange—of some kind to still go ahead.

Interruption of print production of journals

While the interruption of print production has clear consequences for printers, librarians and the journals themselves, for those of us looking to publish articles, the short-term impact is minimal because many journals have online versions. Indeed, this may even present an opportunity to rethink your target journal and submit to one that provides options to enhance the online presence of your article (visual, video and audio abstracts, lay abstracts/plain language summaries, journal tweets, etc).

Fast-tracking of COVID-19 publications and the potential impact of this

Understandably, many COVID-19 publications are being fast-tracked and related research and publications are being made open access. Some groups (e.g. cOAlition S and Open Pharma) have been campaigning for such approaches for some time. It will be interesting to see if current circumstances can help to advance ambitions for open access more broadly.

Appropriateness of publishing on non-COVID-19 topics

Finally, some might question the appropriateness of publishing on non-COVID-19 topics right now. However, the pandemic is unlikely to be a short-term issue, and science and clinical care in other therapy areas cannot be permitted to stagnate. Publications, especially of pivotal data, are key to ensuring ongoing advances that, ultimately, optimize patient care. For more information on the effect the pandemic is having on other patients, please see Patient advocates: hard hit at the time of greatest need and Maintaining noise about other healthcare conditions.

In summary…

  • If data are delayed, do explore other means of adding value through publications (secondary analyses, real-world evidence, opinion-led publications).
  • Don’t assume authors are too busy to engage with publications, assess their availability and, if appropriate, collaborate.
  • If authors are non-responsive, do consider if the ISMPP recommendations on authorship criteria may apply.
  • Don’t assume all congresses publications must be put on hold, explore the range of options that are coming available, create options of your own or proceed to full publication.
  • Do consider other ways (e.g. digital/social media) to replace the scientific exchange that would have taken place at face-to-face congress.
  • Do optimise your publications for online and consider which target journals offer the best options in terms of an online presence.

Considering how best to navigate your publications strategies at this time? We’re here to help.

1 ISMPP Official Guidance on Authorship and Coronavirus. Accessed May 2020.

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