The Big Interview – AstraZeneca’s Matt Bunyan
The impact of COVID-19 has reached right round the globe and what many are interested in is how people, companies, staff and industries are adjusting.
Just before the second lockdown of 2020 was announced in England, the Diabetes Times spoke to Matt Bunyan, Director Cardiovascular and Metabolic Unit, AstraZeneca UK about how the company quickly adapted to help healthcare professionals.
How did AstraZeneca respond to helping healthcare professionals get access to educational opportunities in diabetes during lockdown?
As the UK’s largest bio-pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca is really proud to be supporting national efforts to address COVID-19. From volunteer efforts, to working with national health system partners to roll out interactive technologies, we have focussed efforts on partnership working with healthcare professionals (HCPs) to continue to deliver the best possible care throughout the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, the majority of the educational programmes we supported in type 2 diabetes were face to face, so the switch to a fully virtual environment has been an interesting challenge for us. We knew it was crucial for us to continue supporting HCP education.
We retrained staff to support the NHS in learning how to make best use of digital technologies and worked together with expert partners across the diabetes community to produce a series of virtual meetings starting in early April.
The outcome is a creative and varied programme that meets the educational needs of HCPs. From meetings that supported training for managing type 2 diabetes during Ramadan; to helping educate and train HCPs on how to treat those living with diabetes in a virtual environment, including a dedicated training event for diabetes specialist nurses.
What has AstraZeneca changed when it comes to delivering diabetes education that you would like to see continued post-COVID?
There has long been a drive towards more digital ways of working1, but the pandemic has pushed us all to accelerate this change. The challenge for us at AstraZeneca was how to help HCPs keep up with the most relevant data during such a challenging time for healthcare delivery in the UK.
We addressed this by expanding and innovating our digital offering for professional education, creating a personalised approach that focussed on on-demand learning and omnichannel planning. The latter point in particular is important, because it focuses on engaging with HCPs in ways that best suit them and provides regular touch-points for educational opportunities.
Our updated approach allows to us to provide more varied content for HCPs to watch, listen and review educational programmes through various content formats, including webinars, podcasts, videos, and downloadable content, in a time and way that works best for them.
With everything from educational meetings to congresses going virtual this year, there is a need to adapt to provide educational opportunities that meet the needs of healthcare professionals who are already short on time. It’s this personalised approach to education that we believe will continue to influence how we provide educational opportunities moving forward.
Why was it important to AstraZeneca to help healthcare professionals working on diabetes during lockdown?
We know how important it is for people living with diabetes to be able to manage their condition well. We wanted to help HCPs, be able to continue supporting people living with diabetes to do this throughout the pandemic2.
HCPs had new challenges this year in how they communicate with their patients and we wanted to support them in delivering and optimising care through virtual platforms. We provided materials for people living with diabetes that were downloadable and easy to share; we partnered with nursing groups to support live demos and provide practical skills training; and we supported a series of virtual meetings with Simon Stephens around the work being done by the NHS to return service levels to normal and address the inequalities in care that were brought to the fore during the initial phases of the pandemic.2”
Across all the work we’ve done this year our main goal has been to help HCPs continue to be able to treat their patients in the best possible way in this new virtual world.
From your perspective, what impact has AstraZeneca seen from COVID-19 on people living with diabetes? Are there learnings from the diabetes education you’ve delivered to HCPs that you think could translate well for people living with diabetes?
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the clinical environment3. People living with diabetes may have had clinics or appointments cancelled, postponed or moved to a virtual consultation3,4. This has meant that many people who are living with diabetes are not attending face to face appointments 3 which may have an impact on their emotional and physical well-being4,5. It also represents a change in treatment approach, as annual reviews in the clinical setting often require physical examination or routine blood tests4.
This shift to virtual consultations has an impact on both people living with diabetes and the healthcare professionals who treat them. While the autonomy of testing and availability of digital tools works for some, it may not suit everyone. To help support the diabetes community, we worked with experts to provide top tips for virtual consultations, for example, making sure it doesn’t feel rushed, that the consultations still feel personable, finding solutions for addressing routine physical checks – such as routine foot checks – and, importantly, signposting when a virtual platform would not be suitable.
We are also working to identify innovative ways to share advances in science and how holistic care can and should be translated into better care for people living with type-2 diabetes.
What lessons would you like to see the diabetes community take from the COVID- 19 global pandemic?
It’s been a tough year all around and there is still more we need to learn in order to understand the true impact of the pandemic, but ultimately what we’re all working towards in ensuring that people living with diabetes continue to receive optimum, evidence-based care. Complications for diabetes can be wide and varied6 , for example, evidence before the pandemic has shown that men and women with diabetes have their risk of developing heart failure increased up to two-and five-fold respectively, compared to people without diabetes7. So it’s incredibly important that people with diabetes are still being seen and that they are able to maximise vital care touch-points.
Cross-speciality care is essential in diabetes care, and helps ensure the patient is at the centre of care8 . Working in a virtual space can make it easier for people to interact with each other near and far. We hope that these interactive technologies will help to provide new ways to bring together multidisciplinary teams and focus on a holistic approach, rather than focussing on conditions or complications in isolation.
What are AstraZeneca’s plans for diabetes care in 2021?
We want to thank all our partners in 2020 – we’ve valued these partnerships hugely, because it’s only when we all come together that we’re able to deliver true change. We couldn’t have delivered the educational series we developed this year without our expert partners, including many HCPs who worked in their own time during the pandemic to support critical patient care and educational efforts.
In the next year we hope to redouble our efforts to support great education, collaborating across the therapy areas we work in, to highlight the continued unmet needs that exist for people living with type-2 diabetes. We will continue to evolve and build on the digital platforms we’ve built this year – we want to learn from the activities we delivered to provide educational programmes that meet the needs of the communities we serve in the UK.
What’s your biggest achievement in diabetes care to date?
We are incredibly proud to have delivered advances in the science story that is evolving in type 2 diabetes care. The whole diabetes community is striving to do the very best they can to change the trajectory for people living with type 2 diabetes.
We have seen really impactful and rapid advances in type-2 diabetes science over the past few years. Our aim is to continue to work with our partners in the UK to convert these advances into great education and ultimately better care and outcomes for people living with type 2 diabetes in the UK.
1Strategy. NHS Digital. Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/about-nhs-digital/corporate-information-and-documents/our-strategy. Last accessed: October 2020
2Implementing phase 3 of the NHS response to the COVID-19 pandemic. NHS. Available at: https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp- content/uploads/2020/08/C0716_Implementing-phase-3-v1.1.pdf. Last accessed: October 2020.
3Bakhai, C. Delivering Diabetes Care during the COVID-19 Pandemic – the ‘new normal’. NHS England and NHS Improvement. East of England Clinical Diabetes Network. 12 June 2020.
4Annual Diabetes Checks. Available at: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/managing-your-diabetes/15-healthcare-essentials. Last accessed: October 2020.
5Diabetes and your emotions. Diabetes UK. Available at: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/emotions. Last accessed: October 2020.
6Complications of diabetes. Diabetes UK. Available at: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/complications. Last accessed: October 2020.
7Kenny HC and Abel ED. 2019. Heart failure in type 2 diabetes mellitus: impact of glucose-lowering agents, heart failure therapies, and novel therapeutic strategies. Circ Res. 2019;123:121-141.
8Improving the delivery of adult diabetes care through integration. Diabetes UK. Available at: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/resources- s3/2017-11/integrated%20diabetes%20care%20%28pdf%2C%20648kb%29.pdf. Last accessed: October 2020.