What do medical writers chat about when they get together?

Dr Justin Coleman, president of the Australasian Medical Writers Association (AMWA), reports below on the recent AMWA conference and also manages to get in early with some spruiking for next year’s event.

And, for those with an interest in public health and communications, there is a link to some new job openings at the bottom of the post.


On developments in medical publishing, guideline development and mental health

Justin Coleman writes:

Sydney was tapping to the sound of qwerty keyboards in September, when medical writers gathered at the 28th annual Australasian Medical Writers Association (AMWA) conference. These health communicators — little-known creatures who usually forage alone or in pairs — put on a superb display of unity, including everyone from heavyweight journalists to dieticians and doctors who dabble in occasional articles.

The theme, Quality health communication in a digital world, was in evidence from the opening session, when COSMOS editor Wilson da Silva and Medical Journal of Australia editor Dr Annette Katelaris discussed the benefits and pitfalls of tailoring content to suit a plugged-in readership.

Health information is increasingly moving on-line but, as your typical media mogul would attest, the publishing business model struggles to keep pace. How do publishers and editors maintain quality and accuracy while still making a living? Medical writers greatly admire the quality and utilitarian philosophy of Croakey, but they also like to eat.

Justin Coleman

Cancer Council CEO Professor Ian Olver then discussed how his organisation continuously updates clinical medical guidelines using a wiki platform. The system made so much sense, it is hard to believe that Cancer Council Australia is among the first two or three in the world to do it.

They use a ‘closed wiki’, which means that the usual authors of each chapter can submit updated guidelines whenever they find time, and can update a paragraph or two if new research findings demand it. This continual updating prevents the substantial delays in paper-based new editions, where the publishing deadline is beholden to the slowest author, who is usually a busy clinician.

I predict wikis will soon become the industry standard for clinical guidelines.

Another highlight was the discussion around new developments in mental health: Professor Gavin Andrews at UNSW is using cognitive behavioural therapy, but doing it all online. Participants with depression, anxiety or OCD complete various web-based modules with ‘homework tasks’; the results are impressive.

Professor Richard Bryant, in his session After the disaster, a flood of counsellors, questioned the benefits of sending in teams of psychologists hot on the tails of the ambulances, following natural disasters and major tragedies. The evidence suggests it does as much harm as good, although I suspect it still beats lawyers.

Another session featured the trials and triumphs of three book writers. I was fascinated by Dr Greg de Moore’s description of how it took ten hard years of writing and rejections before finally achieving publication of his medical biography (of Australian Rules football inventor Tom Wills). The first potential publisher kept Greg’s manuscript for ten months before rejecting it…then returned it in its original packaging, unopened! He was glad he’d kept his day job.

Half-day workshops included technical writing; writing for the web; evidence-based medicine; and medical statistics without those ‘damned lies’. By the end of the conference, the place was buzzing with a hyperbole of writers—if that’s the collective extravagance I’m after.

Anyone with an interest — even a very part-time one — in medical writing is encouraged to join AMWA, at http://www.medicalwriters.org/

Next year’s conference will be in Brisbane on 24-25 August 2012.

L-to-R: Wilson da Silva,Ian Olver, Annette Katelaris, Reema Rattan


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Meanwhile, if you’ve an interest in public health writing/research/communications, you may be interested in these jobs now being advertised at Ragg Ahmed.





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