With the world still only a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, clinical researchers, pharma companies and other stakeholders still have a great deal to learn about the virus. Sermo CEO Peter Kirk (PK) recently spoke with Outsourcing-Pharma (OSP) about the insights and information that can be gained from physicians treating COVID-19 and put to use.
OSP: Could you please tell me about Sermo—who you are, what you do, key capabilities/services, and what sets you apart from the competition?
PK: Sermo is the leading voice of global HCP insights, powered by our secure physicians-only social platform and integrated healthcare research capabilities. Physicians come to our platform to talk and collaborate with their peers, from pinpointing a difficult diagnosis to determining the right patient treatment. Unique anonymity capabilities on the platform also allow for honest peer-to-peer conversations and crowdsourcing.
Through our platform of over 800K certified doctors spanning 150 countries, all global members have access to the latest medical updates and information from industry partners so each doctor has the right “toolkit” to provide high quality patient care.
Sermo also collects quantitative, qualitative, and real-time HCP insights through our research capabilities that help inform strategy and power innovation across all sectors of the healthcare industry from drug and vaccine development to healthcare facility best practices. In our mission to amplify the voice of physicians globally, we leverage our own capabilities to uncover and publish key insights that make a difference in healthcare; for example, check out our ongoing COVID-19 Barometer Study and HCP Sentiment Study Series that were developed to keep providers, industry and patients informed with ongoing physician insights throughout the pandemic.
OSP: Could you please share some perspective on how the importance of data in various aspects of health science has evolved in recent years, especially regarding drug development?
PK: The latest developments in technology over recent years have given healthcare professionals and pharmaceutical companies the ability to collect, store, analyze and share much more data. Sophisticated data management platforms have not only allowed for provider collaboration and comprehensive analysis of patient and industry data around prescription and treatment recommendations according to specific symptoms, but also play a key role in R&D for pharmaceutical companies looking to develop new drugs or get approval for new indications.
A key part of this data collection phase – whether for market sizing or measuring therapeutic effectiveness – is accessing real-time insights from doctors on the front lines. This concept has become increasingly important during the COVID-19 pandemic where information is both abundant and rapidly changing and we now have the technology to power seamless data sharing between physicians and researchers.
With access to physician insights, drug researchers are equipped with reputable real-time information to pivot their research as necessary and ensure efficient use of time and resources.
OSP: What are some of the challenges associated with access to and intelligent use of data?
PK: We live in a world of abundant data – everywhere we turn there is a lot of information to sort through and decipher. A key challenge is the ability to synthesize data from various trusted sources quickly in order to make educated decisions in near real-time.
Ultimately, the reputability of the data and its timeliness are critical considerations when it comes to effectively using data to improve patient outcomes and drug development. At Sermo, we help our healthcare industry partners overcome these barriers by carefully verifying our HCP panelists and building technology that enables us to gather representative insights with speed and accuracy.
OSP: Could you please explain what we mean by “data democratization”?
PK: Data democratization is the ability to unlock data’s potential through uninhibited access regardless of one’s technical knowledge or background. Our RealTime tool, for instance, gives anyone instant access to HCP insights and includes the industry’s first data visualization platform, which offers easy access to trends and key takeaways regardless of one’s professional background and analytical capabilities.
Pharmaceutical companies can benefit from a 360 degree view of medical conversations in order to begin the research phase and explore the wide range of perspectives and information available as part of the discovery process. Comprehensive data collection and analysis from across platforms allows for a much more collaborative healthcare system in which peer-to-peer conversations can support physicians in delivering optimized patient care and enhances pharmaceutical research for more effective and efficient treatment.
OSP: What are some of the obstacles to more democratic data sharing/usage, and how can we clear such obstacles?
PK: The main obstacle around democratic data sharing and usage is the synthesis of data across different sources and platforms. This is where tools that employ artificial intelligence can play a key role by quickly collecting and organizing data across multiple sources and helping to pinpoint major trends.
Tools and platforms like our Dashboard Analytics, for example, can mitigate this challenge by giving any user, regardless of their technical background, the ability to view data and identify trends. Through democratization, these tools can aid in identifying the appropriate data from the abundant amount of information available to make sure it is accurate, up-to-date and framed in an organized way for evidence-based decisions.
Additionally, with a range of trustworthy data across private and public platforms when crowdsourcing, industries like pharma can benefit from doctors’ frontline insights to drive the R&D process. There was much discussion around medical crowdsourcing when shows like Netflix’s “Diagnosis” came out; the obstacle here in part is where the data is coming from, or who is being crowdsourced – in the case of this show and other popular culture phenomenons, it was the general population.
Platforms like ours at Sermo allow for medical crowdsourcing of all physicians, helping to give the anecdotal information credibility in peer and industry communities that this crowdsourced opinion is from medical professionals. Finding a way to identify credible information and analyze it in an organized way is crucial for creating and sustaining a democratized data environment.
OSP: Could you please explain what the COVID-19 Barometer Study is, and what questions you hoped to answer with it?
PK: Our COVID-19 Barometer Study was launched in March 2020 to offer a real-time aggregated view of the COVID-19 battle from frontline physicians across the world. The study is powered by our Real Time survey platform and addresses a broad range of topics including the efficacy and safety of treatments, vaccine development, patient types experiencing the most complications, hospital preparedness, second wave, the impact of social distancing and more.
With the information around COVID-19 changing so rapidly, we’re providing a reputable data source for the public, HCPs, industry, and policy makers alike that gives a holistic view of what’s really happening by region to inform policy-making and help fight COVID-19.
OSP: Could you please share some of the more notable findings?
PK: Our COVID-19 Barometer Study has provided timely physician insights around specific treatments, testing, the availability of medical equipment and predictions for the course of the virus, tracked over time. The study offers an interesting analysis of how physician perspectives compare across countries; specifically, our most recent study conducted from August 8-11 found that 48% of 2,000 physician respondents reported that some of their patients do not believe COVID-19 is a significant threat for them, making this one of the top three barriers to acceptance of a COVID-19 vaccine among adult patients.
Additionally, 87% of physicians said that concern over vaccine safety and potential side effects would pose a significant barrier, and 61% believe some of their patients will have concerns around the efficacy of the vaccine and whether it is worth the hassle.
OSP: How do you think such information could be made use of by clinical trials, pharma companies, caregivers and others?
PK: For clinical trials and pharmaceutical companies, democratized medical data provides a comprehensive overview of industry insights and physicians’ perspectives from the field to aid in the development of the most effective treatments. Our research capabilities and pre-existing data help to understand current physician perceptions of different treatment options and treatment efficacy or indication, as well as identify unmet needs in treating patients to inform pharmaceutical companies’ research and development strategy.
With real-time physician insights, research teams can quickly get feedback and adjust their methods to ensure the most effective and efficient use of time and resources.
Caregivers and patients can benefit from our data and healthcare provider insights to live healthier lives and make educated care decisions for loved ones. With so much information online, having one portal of credible information is more important now than ever before; for instance, our COVID-19 Barometer Study data provides individuals with an understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic’s progress in their particular area, such as insights into when cases will peak, future waves, thoughts on potential vaccination adoption and physician tips for how to best protect themselves, like the importance of wearing a mask and social distancing.