A couple of ways I am a better medical editor from home – before I’ve put on my slippers

Article written by George Hackett, Senior Medical Editor.

The editorial and proofreading departments of any company are naturally siloed. We need quiet, but more, we need to maintain a completely independent view of everything we read. We approach the materials from fresh, exactly as they will be read by healthcare professionals and patients. This is a fundamental quality of the work, as familiarity erodes the ability to assess it from a quality control standpoint. And that is what we do: quality control. It protects the reader from misunderstanding or inaccuracy, it protects the client from immediate liability, and it protects the agency from avoidable errors that can only hurt the client relationship.

In the era of Covid-19 we are all essentially siloed, but the editorial function can positively benefit from the new model in many ways, a couple of which I outline below from my own experience as a long-term remote senior medical editor.

Hardware:

 

  • Most companies contract out their computer hardware and maintenance, and as editorial has no particular need of superior computing power and no client-facing role, the main difference for us from a hardware perspective is having 2 monitors to work with – one for the round with changes, and one for the new round. The extended desktop space is particularly useful when checking data from multiple sources, and preparing reference packs for medical and legal submissions.

 

  • The primary difficulty with working across two monitors, however, is bezels. It is no help at all to have an interruption in line of sight when any monitor is already inferior to reading from print, as a matter of resolution and contrast in natural light. On-site I will typically be provided with two 23-inch monitors, whereas at home I have a one 43-inch 4K monitor. No bezels, no interruption, but also, in the context of reading for sense, a superior size and presentation of information that makes it as easy for me to read as accurately as high-resolution print in a light room.

 

  • Another disadvantage in the service company model is a lack of RAM memory in the typical machine. I am switching between documents quickly, creating and amending documents, and often across multiple pieces at once. Having enough RAM allows me to work without interruption or the system hanging; but RAM is expensive, and it is one of the few ways a hardware services company can make savings. I have worked for top international medical companies with thousands of employees that are using computers that have half the manufacturer-recommended memory, and no way to do anything about it. You would almost be forced to come in at the weekend and install the correct memory yourself so that you can do your job correctly….

 

Software:

 

  • Mac OS has long been the standard for communications and the arts in general. This dates back to the era of the RISC processor, which was vastly superior in rendering images and video. When Apple switched to Intel processors, they lost the qualities of the RISC processor, and it does not seem like they redesigned the OS from scratch to account for the fundamental change in system architecture. What this means for medical editors is that working with multiple PDFs open and being commented on simultaneously is guaranteeing a crash in Adobe, where I can work across 60-odd different PDF texts, commenting and updating, and have no trouble with a PC. Being able to work effectively and efficiently has a direct impact on editorial work. The more efficiently we work, the quicker the turnaround time, and the less often rounds of changes are made on the fly. What we do takes time, but the less time we take, the more often we get to participate in the process, and the more impact we can have on quality.

 

  • In medical communications, software management is often controlled by a small in-house team that has little input on budgeting, and a range of much more demanding issues coming from other departments – editorial is very much the poor cousin. But we have our software needs, and they often as not directly affect turnaround time and therefore the integrity of the production process. Those same international companies that are limited by hardware are also limited by outdated, unsupported software. Not because they would wish it, but because limited resources are stretched in an environment that is only becoming more demanding on software. As a remote worker I’m directly responsible for my software, and I get to stay up to date. I know it makes a difference.

 

Covid-19 has affected our society fundamentally, and changes in the way we work have advantages and disadvantages. The benefits will be seen most obviously in big-picture sums, ROI, profit models and the rest, but there are many ways to find efficiencies. When life returns to normal, lessons will have been learned, and obvious gains made from running certain business functions using remote workers. In medical editing, an intellectually demanding job that requires peace and quiet – and the right tools for the job – I give myself every advantage before the day even begins.

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