Unlocking the creative power behind healthcare comms

By Paul Andrews, Executive Director, Creative, Design & Production

Design plays a vital role in healthcare communications, helping translate complex scientific data into digestible content and visually exciting campaigns for wide-ranging audiences.

We caught up with the head of Virgo’s global creative design studio, Paul Andrews, who leads The Pharmacy, our multi-disciplinary team of 13 designers who are passionate about delivering accessible, creative and innovative healthcare design.

What areas of healthcare are most exciting creatively?  

All areas have potential for creativity, but they all manifest differently, I think congress booths have the most scope for introducing new and emerging technology into the experience, we are always exploring at how we can make content more engaging in this setting. Data visualization is an area healthcare should be better at, with the amount of data that’s presented we should be setting the bar of what is possible, telling the scientific or human story through the data and contextualizing it for the audience.

How can design make healthcare more inclusive and accessible?

People always assume design is making something look visually appealing but that’s the end product, the process to get there is more problem-solving and inclusivity and accessibility is a key part of that: How do we take this content and make it easy to digest? How do we make sure the audience is represented? What’s the messaging hierarchy and how do package that information in an aesthetic way to attract viewers and maximise usability?

Intended audience is always a consideration, regardless if it’s healthcare or not. If we are setting type on a patient piece of content for the elderly or visually impaired we take that into account for sizing and legibility of the text or if we are creating an animation with text – are all the viewers reading this in their native language, if not we slow it down to give people more time. If we are using imagery, is it representative of the audience we are talking to.

How will AI affect design?

Will it replace illustrators, designers and animators? Probably not, it’s just going to become another tool we all lean on to get the best results. AI will certainly streamline processes, speed things up and spark creativity – there are platforms where you can automatically generate 50 versions of artwork for different media, it’s not always perfect and needs a human eye to tidy-up but that kind of automation is getting better and better.

Tools like generative fill in Adobe Photoshop is a game changer, Mid-Journey or Firefly are great for instantly bringing concepts to life, which is perfect for showcasing ideas to clients or suggesting visual routes you might not have considered. We will certainly see more content creators specializing in AI generated content as there is an art to getting it right, a mix of creative intention, programming and knowing the right prompts to create your vision.

What are the challenges of designing for healthcare?

One of the main hurdles in healthcare design is making sure you are compliant with local guidelines, such as the ABPI in the UK. As these vary from market to market, we all need to be aware of the requirements. Another common issue is finding images. Stock imagery for healthcare can be a real challenge, especially if you are trying to avoid the common tropes, for this reason we often suggest bespoke illustration as an alternative, and we are very fortunate to have a group of very talented illustrators within the team.

What misconception about healthcare design would you dispel?

People assume designing in healthcare can be a little dull and samey: scientific content, blue and green corporate pharma colour palettes, Photoshop’d images of patients breaking through walls, death by PowerPoint – but it’s the opposite!

Yes, there are aspects of that but it’s an incredibly rewarding sector to work in, both creatively and technically. We get to translate complex mechanisms of action into graphic or illustrated pieces that everyone can understand, we create educational disease awareness explainer animations and emotionally charged patient videos – the work we do is wide-ranging, complex and challenging but for all the right reasons.

What design challenges are the hardest?

Data visualisation – it’s one of the things I am most passionate about as I believe data presented in the right way can really contextualise the content and bring people into the story we are telling. The exploration of how we present that data can take some time and throw-up problems that you wouldn’t find in other projects, such as creating interactive user-led journeys through the content. It doesn’t have to be fancy or over-complicated, just something that gives the viewer the content in the most digestible, yet meaningful way.

The Pharmacy is Virgo Health’s award-winning global creative design studio, specializing in healthcare design and content production. Their work ranges across artwork, animation, 3D, films, photography presentation, digital design, booth and experiential design and illustration. To learn more about our capabilities or share a brief please email paul.andrews@virgohealth.com.

Medical Affairs digital and AI transformation is here

By Joe Doyle, EVP Digital Health and Sachim Makani, EVP Scientific Strategy

Digital transformation is a driving force for pharma communications teams and today it is rising in medical affairs, with a feast of channels and touchpoints for scientific learning. So when the Medical Affairs Professional Society (MAPS) group advertised a tech and innovation summit my colleague, Sachin Makani and I attended to join a new medical education world. Here’s our takeaways:

Leveraging Technology and Data to Create Innovative Solutions

Charged with caffeine, we took our first dive into the innovation syllabus with insights in artificial intelligence from Kevin Hartman, Practice Leader – Data and AI Solutions, UC Berkeley.

Joe – AI is a reality for our teams at Virgo Health, and Kevin shared great insights – such as, “hallucinate is when AI makes up a result that is incorrect, but close.” His students’ projects for healthcare included a clinical trials chatbot that optimizes real-world evidence and one that helps search relevant pub med articles for medical questions stood out the most.

Sachin – Totally agree about that real-world evidence and mining through PubMed examples, Joe. I was excited as I imagined how much time something like that could save us. This was the first of many instances we heard that day of how AI can make us more efficient.

Digital Transformation in Medical Affairs: Is it a Complex Goal?

Vruti Patel of Xeris moderated a group that included experts from IBM, Astellas, Pfizer, Inizio, and Alucio. The Q&A featured ideal thought starters for the day.

Joe – My favorite question from the moderator was “You can’t be super proactive with medical information; how do you balance that?” The panelists referred to a time just five years ago when we didn’t even say the words Marketing and Med Affairs in the same sentence. Jessica Wong of Alucio explained that our pharma data, especially peer-reviewed examples, is public, and corporate entities are helping health professionals find it for the betterment of patients. Rishi Ohri, Astellas, added that he’s been able to achieve more by helping legal and compliance understand the importance of digital amplification. Virgo Health works with a couple of brands where this is a reality, and it makes all the difference.

Sachin – This was my favorite panel session, the discussion that didn’t have anything to do with AI or medical affairs per se but team-building and collaboration. One approach highlighted by the participants was to “highlight junior members” and “celebrate small wins.” Another highlight was 6-3-5 Brainwriting Ideation, where 6 people come up with 3 ideas each, in 5 min. (After 6 rounds, this = 108 ideas). Good when the objective is to generate many ideas without a single voice dominating the room.

Missing Link Between Organizational Vision, Strategy, and Execution for Medical Affairs

Another all-star cast was led by Bratati Ganguly of Planet Pharma. She guided a group of executives from Biogen, Ipsen, Servier and Syneos Health.

Sachin – Main takeaway for me here, whether we’re talking about a technological, personnel, or organizational innovation, is to fail small, fail fast, and fail forward. By failing small, the sunk costs are small, and by failing forward you set yourself up for the next step, which will hopefully be a success.

Joe – Our med affairs partners crave digital opportunities, but don’t always have the internal staff to help make new programs and channels successful. Hearing Shashi Singh of Agile N2N use the magic words “audience first” made me smile. Gerard Deisenroth of Ipsen added that it helps when your med affairs team has change management expertise, or your company has a COE with storytelling experts to envision success for decision-makers.

The Promise and Potential of Augmented Intelligence for Medical Affairs

If the morning keynote tackled the origins of AI, the afternoon session followed perfectly with a call to action – AI is here, it is time to use it – with entertaining guest speaker, Matt Lewis, Chief AI Officer of Inizio.

Joe – It was nice to see focus on the human side of technology. Matt made us feel at ease by pointing to one fact – humans start and finish every use of AI. And AI can motivate employees, taking away the drudgery and opening it up for employees to think more, to be more strategic. A great question from the room asked about web3 technologies (bitcoin, metaverse, AI, etc.) and which is the right innovation to get behind. Matt pointed to one fact – AI is the only innovation that is already here and widely used.

Sachin – We know this: AI is here and it’s not going away. We are currently integrating AI with client partners to create the most positive impact, safely and ethically and identifying the next generation use cases for AI to assist our teams with creativity, efficiency, and quality. Leveraging new capabilities and channels will be vital for future medical affairs communications, Matt’s real-world examples were a great validation that we are headed in the right direction.

New capabilities and channels for future medical affairs communications gave us all assurance that we are getting more personalized to bring health with a human touch.

Celebrating Inclusive Smart Hybrid Working

By Amanda Moulson, Executive Director, Virgo Health  

As I was doing my nightly social scrolls – checking in on my faves like noodle vids and cat reels – I noted @mother_pukka taking on Lord Sugar and Jacob Rees Mogg, among others, for urging people to get back to the office full time. ‘Flexible working is inclusive working!’ she said – and I thought ‘YES!’ as I shared to my own feed, quoting her.

She’s right! Flexible working IS inclusive working – and it’s not just about opening up geography or accommodating lifestyles, like being a parent or a carer. It’s also about allowing people with disabilities to work in environments that are created for them. It makes neurodiverse people feel psychologically safe. And, despite the fact that we’re in PR and presumed to be loudmouths, it accommodates the shy, the quiet and the introverted (who can still be loudmouths – a personal example – albeit loudmouths in need of a good recharge).

One thing that really frustrates me is that in the early flush of our post-pandemic ways, we saw possibility; we spoke about re-inventing things that needed an update. On the top of the list was the future of work, so we bandied about phrases like ‘digital nomadry’ and we expounded about the role of culture in hybridised places. Sadly, a lot of those conversations began, and ended, with a vision, and since many have retreated to the same old, same old.

We had an enormous opportunity to create a new future, and my fear is that too many companies squandered it. But luckily, that’s not true of Virgo Health, where Smart Hybrid policies keep us future fit and dead flexible.

Because we’re all different, we all need different things at different times. Virgo’s Smart Hybrid policy takes all of these needs into account. While deep and heads-down work can be done at home, when we’re in the office, there are communal spaces for us to meet, create, eat and play (and let me tell you, the mini breadstick game is STRONG). And for people with in-office requirements who enjoy quieter time, we have designated areas to focus, ‘meditation spaces’ and outside space.

In agency life, our clients demand creativity. Since employee experience is the start of the client experience, I couldn’t be happier to work with a team that took the challenge to reinvent the future of work seriously.

Creativity? Find a job that lets you play with what you love

By Amanda Moulson, Executive Director, Virgo Health  

Virgo Health’s Amanda Moulson shares the secret to nurturing your creativity.

I’ve felt lucky in my career to be branded as ‘creative’ – a brand that becomes self-fulfilling when ideas are requested in various brainstorms, workshops, or in the on the fly ‘hey can I just grab your brain for a minute?’ chats. As someone with this label, I am often surprised when people say, ‘I’m not creative’, or when I read self-assessments in which my colleagues worry that they are not creative enough.


We are all creative. Because creativity is about solving problems in unique and novel ways. And we can explore all those ways when, to paraphrase psychiatrist Carl Jung, the creative mind plays with what it loves.

What do you love? It can be as ‘basic’ or intellectual as you like. Tik Tok, Emily in Paris, dogs, rugby, Proust. Any or all – and the more the better. These references are the jumping off points for ideation, so never hesitate to bring what you love to your workplace.

Me? I love words. I love reading. Once I read a book, I deeply dive into its subject matter and those ideas re-emerge in ideation (my team will not forget the ‘gaming phase’ that followed my read of the truly spectacular Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow). I also love the feeling of being astonished by a sentence that expresses a universal notion but in the most incisive possible way, and I am inspired to work my own copy to that point of precision in my daily work at Virgo.

Virgo, a healthcare communications agency, zodiacally-destined to be organised and professionally obligated to be analytical, evidence-driven and compliant. Where’s the creativity in that?

Well, I’m glad you asked.

Sure, we ‘healthcare people’ deal in the left-brained stuff. But remember, we can be creative with maths; it is about relationships. We can be creative with science because what is science if not a study of creation? We can be creative about how we communicate about data because data is the currency of the modern world. And we can be creative about healthcare because there is no space more deserving of inventive problem-solving than the one that, when fine-tuned, allows all of us to thrive in every possible way.

Thriving itself is an outcome of creativity – of imagining the new and the better possibilities for the things and the people you love (self-included). So, whether at work or at play, I beg you, find what you love. Shout about it to whoever will listen and surround yourself with people that protect and nurture those things. Trust me, it really is going to make those ‘hey can I just grab your brain for a minute’ chats that much more fun!