June 16, 2020
Opening Remarks and Housekeeping Sina Pousht-Mashhad, PMCQ Director
Introduction of speaker Sina Pousht-Mashhad, PMCQ Director
Today’s virtual meeting features presentations by our keynote speakers:
Vincent Letourneau Associate Director, Medical Affairs, Immunology, AbbVie
Mr. Letourneau started the discussion by highlighting the importance of information dissemination during a crisis and the critical role of the media. People tend to demand rapid answers in an uncertain environment but it’s important to note that a scientific consensus requires time and solid evidence. Many topics have been the subject of contradictory information such as: Immunity, time to get a vaccine, use of a booster, effectiveness of masks and the possibility of a second wave. Mr. Letourneau emphasised on taking the necessary time to provide answers in order to maintain trust and credibility and not risk losing evidence-based medicine because we are trying to go too fast.
The COVID-19 situation has put to light that our health system was not ready nor nimble enough to face such a pandemic despite all the financial investment. It highlighted many weaknesses that were already present for some time and mainly showed the discordance between upper management decisions and the field reality. Unfortunately, we have observed that despite all efforts put in place, we failed to protect the elderly which represented the most vulnerable population. Moreover, there were many important collateral damages that occurred as a consequence of the COVID situation. Many people suffering from severe conditions including oncology patients did not receive the care or treatment they should have. In fact, many patients did not want to go to hospitals because of their fear of contamination.
However, it’s important to recognize the amazing collaboration among scientists, organizations (NIH, the Gates Foundation, WHO) and many pharmaceutical companies around the world during this situation. Scientists have rapidly shared the structure of the virus to encourage the research and learnings about the virus. Also, it was important to secure a steady supply of medication for patients during this crisis to avoid any treatment interruptions. Another important component was to quickly put in place the appropriate procedures and material to protect the healthcare staff facing the pandemic as well as employees in other sectors.
The first approach that many pharmaceutical companies took is to take a second look at molecules that are currently in the market that can be used against COVID-19 while considering the associated potential complications. Many groups around the world are currently testing different molecules but there is no effective treatment against COVID-19 at the moment. The virus identification of the sequence was quite rapid and that helped researchers developing anti-viral molecules that could prevent virus replication and transmission. However, there is an imminent need to prevent the virus spread in the community with prophylactic intervention such as a vaccine.
Clinical research was also significantly impacted during this pandemic and not only from the operational standpoint but also from the regulatory perspective. Many trials were not able to launch during the outbreak and others had difficulty collecting patient’s data and will be delayed. This will definitely have an impact on treatment access.
COVID-19 has pushed the use of digital technology in the healthcare industry. Telemedicine was previously slowly gaining interest but has totally exploded during the pandemic and will become more and more prominent going forward. We see the same trend for HCPs interaction with the pharmaceutical industry and this shift will likely remain long after the COVID situation.
Mr. Letourneau concluded on a positive note noting that although the COVID situation brings lots of challenges, it also represents a true opportunity to take all the learnings from this experience and rethink our ways in order to improve our approaches in the healthcare system and the pharmaceutical industry.
Hani Kafoury Psychologist, Coach, Facilitator, Author
Mr. Kafoury discussed the current changing and uncertain environment and the importance of having appropriate tools to manage excessive stress and reduce its negative impact on our immune system. Stressful situations often make us lose balance and feel disheartened. Many people experience difficulty in processing information and thinking clearly. However, other people are able to adopt a positive approach towards stress and use it to their advantage. The difference in how people manage stressful situations resides within the gap between the perceived difficulty and the perceived capability to cope with it.
Acute stress is usually intense and of short duration and it triggers the fight or flight response. On the other hand, chronic stress is more diffuse and is usually future oriented. It creates anxiety around the potential outcomes of a situation and can be debilitating. Ultimately, the body is misguided in both acute and chronic stress. Essential functions such as digestion, reproduction and immunity become compromised as our body focuses its energy into responding to the stressful trigger.
Anxiety can be triggered by an event that is either real or imaginary, external or internal, and it could be involving a past, present or a future scenario. This event will trigger some of our core beliefs and thoughts about ourselves, other people and the world around us. This train of thought is usually of irrational nature and leads to some cognitive distortions where one becomes unable to see the reality of the situations as it is. These distortions can trigger either healthy or unhealthy emotions depending on the nature (positive or negative) of our core beliefs.
According to Mr. Kafoury, many people have difficulty practicing cognitive distancing in response to a stressful event. People are less able to have a wider perspective and see the big picture. They tend to view their own belief system as the ultimate truth and this will often lead them into making negative predictions about all future outcomes.
Mr. Kafoury proposed an approach based on four strategies to challenge and correct these cognitive distortions.
Challenge the beliefs and thought processes around these beliefs to avoid falling into the confirmation bias pattern and reinforcing them.
The way you shift your focus on a particular situation can transform your vision and offer a new perspective.
Evaluate all the potential negative outcomes and start thinking about different strategies to overcome them.
Focus your energy on the process and everything that you can control instead of the outcome.
Freelance Medical Writer