Mark Gross, President, Data Conversion Laboratory, appearing in Medical Design
Recent surveys highlight the challenges and priorities for healthcare content professionals
A new survey of life sciences and healthcare professionals, jointly conducted by Data Conversion Laboratory (DCL) and The Rockley Group (TRG), highlights three top data concerns of the respondents’ organizations: proliferating formats (56%), multiple channel delivery (55%), and content inconsistencies (40%). Each of these areas of concern can lead to potentially dangerous inaccuracies being distributed to the public.
“Consumers today seek out informational content on a variety of platforms,” said Ann Rockley, founder and president of The Rockley Group. “Prescriptions, for example, can be found not only on the paper insert that accompanies the medication, but digitally as well. It’s important that companies in the healthcare industry take steps to ensure that the information they provide is accurate and consistent across all channels available to the consumer. Not doing so can risk lives.”
Medical device and healthcare companies comprise the majority of the respondents to the DCL-TRG survey (28% and 39%, respectively). Survey results indicate that content is being reused in many ways, with 39% of respondents currently reusing their content among product versions, 42% among audiences (e.g., physician, healthcare worker, patient), and 31% across product/drug product families. In addition, respondents indicated that they would like to reuse their content with print-to-Web and mobile devices (49%), among audiences (47%) and across product versions (44%).
Mobile devices especially have continued to grow in importance and popularity as a delivery platform. Trying to publish in print and various mobile devices such as Android tablets and Apple iOS smartphones means that there are many factors an organization needs to consider. Automated processes must be put in place to ensure that all types of content are being managed consistently in each aspect of the organization, and that when content is published, it is published effectively and delivered error-free on each platform.
With multiple channels available to deliver content, medical device companies face many content management challenges for today and tomorrow. According to respondents, the top four concerns in regards to the current management of content are regulatory requirements (46%), time to market (45%), version control (45%), and publishing (38%).
According to another recent survey, conducted by Emergo Group, measuring the medical device industry’s outlook for 2014, 43% of respondents said that changing regulatory environments were their biggest challenge. Changing regulatory environments topped this list for the second year in a row, which means that developing content that can be adaptable across platforms and responsive to regulations is another high priority.
Clearly, with the large volume of information that must be managed, maintaining versions across multiple languages and multiple formats become significant issues. For companies marketing across borders, the cost of translation alone, across multiple products, quickly becomes a major budget item. As medical device companies enter new international markets in places like Brazil, Russia, India, and China, and launch new products in developed markets like the U.S. and U.K., organizations must be ready to respond quickly to each market’s specific regulatory requirements, and to efficiently translate their content for international markets and regulations.
The survey results show that traditional approaches to content management are not working. Managing ever-growing volumes of content and proliferating formats makes migrating to a content management system (CMS) essential. The popular option among many leading-edge systems is to use Extensible Markup Language (XML), which encodes documents in a format readable for both humans and machines, and particularly Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA), the XML-based open standard for modular organization of content. Migrating to a CMS and adopting DITA is a key step to retaining sanity in making an organization’s content manageable and meeting all the multi-platform delivery challenges.
This shift, however, is not necessarily easy. Migrating to a CMS and converting your content appropriately, without disturbing business operations, can be a complex process. A mistake organizations make is to migrate all their content into a CMS at one time without making proper interim provisions. But, this is a crucial task, not to be done without planning and testing.
While a pilot project is an investment in time and money, it can be very beneficial, saving time and money by better planning and implementation. The planning stage and pilot allow an organization to avoid the surprises that can arise through sloppy content migration, misunderstandings of XML and DITA best practices, and a lack of training. The worst time to discover surprises is when you are “going live” with a mission-critical system.
It’s also easy to underestimate the cultural shift necessary in migrating to a CMS and XML/DITA. DITA’s topic approach allows structuring and rearranging, and reusing these topics as needed, but garnering the benefits requires writers to think differently. While writers traditionally write linearly, page following page, DITA assumes that writers think in modular units called “topics.” Writers need to adapt their approach and learn to write in topics, rather than pages.
Retaining your investment in existing content when moving your existing content to DITA requires that the traditionally written linear content be reorganized and split apart into reusable topics. While the content migration is often an afterthought, bringing the content conversion up front into the planning stages assures that you can get your system up and running quickly and have your writers on line immediately.
Cost is always a factor, but one needs to consider total project costs rather than merely the cost-per-page, and that’s particularly true in DITA projects where so much content gets rearranged. Publication timetables and deadlines, automation, quality assurance of the process, reduction of risk, and avoidance of later costs repair are all factors affecting total project cost.
When deciding among the alternatives for conversion, organizations need to define who does the work. Organizations can choose to do the work themselves, subcontract to outside parties, or something in between. While some organizations have the internal expertise and available resources to do the work themselves, that is relatively rare. Most organizations choose to bring in outside talent to do at least part of the work--and in doing so, find that bringing in someone who can partner with them can be much more beneficial. I’m a big fan of the hybrid approach. A collaborative approach with responsibilities shared by both parties reduces risk, manages costs, and allows taking advantage of the best that each party offers.
Medical device and healthcare companies have many available options to meet the challenges posed by multi-channel delivery requirements, proliferating formats, and content inaccuracies. While the overall outlook among these organizations is positive, these challenges remain significant, especially in light of new markets and changing regulatory requirements. Moving to a DITA-based CMS allows an organization to address these challenges through standardization and greater reusability of content. Migrating your existing content gets you there quicker and less expensively--provided that you carefully analyze and prioritize all content before migrating. Working with a carefully selected conversion partner can ease the entire process, providing important guidance and expertise along the way. A careful, measured migration is ultimately an investment that yields beneficial returns on investment in the long run, and makes your content equally adept for all platforms across the enterprise.