Exploring the Range of Medical Writing
The demand for qualified medical writers has grown exponentially in recent years, making this an exciting and rewarding time to enter the field. While many might be familiar with the term, few understand what this line of work actually involves. The answer is complex and will be discussed in greater detail in this Insight Article. We are going to discuss the path to become a medical writer, the skill sets that are required, and how Health Economics and Outcomes Research (HEOR) medical writing offers an exciting opportunity to work in the healthcare industry in a way that is both new and intriguing.
Global Expansion of the Medical Writing Industry
Medical writers can write for medical journals, participate in research projects or educational initiatives, and even obtain a position in the field of health economics. Predictions for the global medical writing industry suggest a growth trajectory from a 2022 valuation of $3.8 billion to a higher level between 2023 and 2030, with an expected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.46%. The increased demand is ascribed to a favourable environment for pharmaceutical, medtech, and healthtech companies to conduct clinical trials in developing countries. The rise in the number of medical devices and innovative technologies necessitates an enhanced synthesis of information within the healthcare industry. Furthermore, in today’s digital age, the widespread use of the internet and social media has created a greater demand for precise and reliable medical writing.
Different Kinds of Medical Writers
Medical writers work in a variety of different environments. Aspiring medical writers explore different paths in their journey towards a career in the field. Many individuals in this field have extensive medical or scientific backgrounds, such as doctors or pharmacists, which contribute to their expertise. There are also professional writers who are interested in writing about science and medicine, and they wish to use their knowledge in communications to their advantage. They essentially become subject matter experts in their respective field or specific interest group. Some medical writers work in companies such as pharmaceutical companies and others as independent contractors, choosing to specialise in one type of medical writing or editing.
Examples of Medical Writing Include
Regulatory Writers: These writers are essential in the process of drug, biologic agents, and medical devices approval. They meticulously craft and edit documents required by regulatory bodies like the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or European Medicines Agency (EMA). They are responsible for writing documents including package inserts, clinical study reports or annual safety reports. You’ll find these writers in pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device companies, and contract research organisations (CROs).
Scientific Writers: These professionals collaborate with physicians and researchers to generate and edit manuscripts for peer-reviewed journals. They also create abstracts as well as posters and presentations for scientific conferences. They can be found in academic or healthcare institutions, pharmaceutical, biotech, or medical device companies.
Grant Writers: These writers craft and edit grant proposals for funding scientific research, clinical trial protocols, study reports and investigator’s brochures. They can be found in academic and healthcare institutions, private foundations, patient advocacy groups, and professional associations.
Medical Communication and Journalism Writers: They translate medical terms for the general public and lay people. They write and edit materials into non-technical language for non-professional audiences, which include patient education, public health communication, and website content. These writers are employed in healthcare institutions, public health offices, government agencies, publishers, and media outlets.
Medical Marketing and Education Writers: These writers develop educational documents for healthcare professionals. They create textbooks, slide decks, brochures and learning modules. They may work at medical education companies, academic institutions, healthcare centres, or pharma and biotech companies.
HEOR Medical Writers: HEOR is a rapidly expanding field. Medical writers specialising in HEOR occupy a very niche role and play a vital part in the creation of health economic literature. This literature is targeted at key decision-makers, including payers (such as insurance companies and governments), regulatory agencies, and other stakeholders. HEOR medical writers may find employment in pharmaceutical and medical device companies, health insurance firms, research organisations, or academia. They often handle professional work outsourced from these organisations.
Understanding the Basics
HEOR evaluates treatment’s clinical and economic impact. Intervention and real-world care data and modelling research are included.  There are two basic components to HEOR: assessments that estimate the economic impact of an intervention before its implementation and outcomes studies or instruments that assess the economic and/or quality-of-life value of an ongoing or projected intervention. Medical writers together with health economists study the costs (inputs) and consequences (outcomes) of healthcare interventions. Clinical, humanistic, and economic effects of healthcare interventions are examined in outcomes research which offer valuable data and insights for healthcare decision makers. 
What Sets HEOR Medical Writing Apart?
The role of HEOR medical writers is multifaceted. They should be knowledgeable on complex medical and therapeutic areas, having a clear understanding of both medical and economic terminology and concepts. They require the ability to quickly familiarise themselves with various subject matters and healthcare structures. While working in HEOR medical writing differs from regulatory medical writing, they should still be familiar with the development and regulatory framework of medicines as well as medical devices.
A clear knowledge in pharmacology and drug safety is a major advantage in medical writing. HEOR medical writers must be comfortable working with numbers, as they are often presented with raw data which they have to communicate in a clear manner. They need to understand the primary study data, as health economics analyses often have fewer authors who comprehend the mathematical aspects of the work. Therefore, working with statistics is also a critical skill needed in HEOR medical writing.
Furthermore, medical writers in HEOR must possess a concise writing style, as they are tasked with reporting on cost-related items in a critical manner. Their work contributes significantly to the growth and development of health economics, making them an integral part of the medical writing field. A PubMed search containing keywords including cost-effective, budget impact analysis, and cost-effective analysis shows the rapid growth in HEOR from 1990 to 2023.
Figure 1. Growth in HEOR publications from 1990 – 2023.
Becoming a Medical Writer: What Does It Take?
Medical writers come from a variety of educational and professional backgrounds, but they all have a shared interest in science and writing. They demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of medical concepts and ideas, coupled with the ability to articulate facts and interpretations in a manner that resonates with the target audience. While there is no standard qualification, many medical writers hold advanced degrees in medical or scientific disciplines, whereas others possess degrees in communications or English.
A recent social media poll (Figure 2) revealed that the primary motivation for pursuing a career as a HEOR medical writer was the opportunity to influence healthcare in a new way. Most medical writing careers necessitate at least a bachelor’s degree in medicine or science. Writers with postgraduate degrees, such as a Master’s or Ph.D., have already demonstrated their capacity to conduct rigorous scientific research which is advantageous in the job seeking process. Certifications and courses can provide individuals without postgraduate degrees with a means to showcase their proficiency in the field of medical communication.
Figure 2: LinkedIn Poll on Reasons for Pursuing a Career in HEOR Medical Writing.
Skills and Requirements for HEOR Medical Writing
A medical writer’s main task is to communicate scientific information. Medical writers must have a thorough understanding of the research topic, design, and data to present it effectively.  Developing this skill requires conscious effort. In a recent social media poll, (Figure 3) having a strong scientific knowledge is seen equally important as writing and communication when it comes to HEOR medical writing. Writing scientific documents involves reviewing, interpreting, and presenting research data. They must use grammatically correct language, simple and concise sentences, and maintain a logical flow of ideas. They should be able to present data or information in a well-structured manner. Avoiding complex technical jargon helps make their writing more accessible, particularly to non-medical audiences.
Staying up to date with the latest technological advancements is crucial for any HEOR medical writer, as artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to be a valuable research assistant. AI could improve data analysis, produce insights from difficult datasets, and automate some writing aspects, improving efficiency and enhance accuracy. Medical writers must be adept at navigating databases like PubMed, Cochrane, Ovid Medline, Google Scholar, EMBASE and Micromedex for relevant information. A systematic search strategy, including the use of correct keywords and authentic sources, is crucial. Furthermore, medical writers must be aware of ethical and legal issues. They are responsible for providing truthful and complete information, respecting copyright laws, avoiding plagiarism, and adhering to authorship criteria for research manuscripts.
Figure 3: LinkedIn poll on what skill is most needed to become a HEOR medical writer.
Qualities of a Good HEOR Medical Writer
To excel as a HEOR medical writer, it is imperative to possess not only technical expertise, but also a profound understanding of each project’s objectives and specifications. Given that HEOR is a constantly evolving field, it is crucial for HEOR medical writers to stay abreast of the latest developments. This requires viewing information through both clinical and economic lenses, while understanding that the results are relevant to both sectors. Coupled with this should be a keen attention to detail and the ability to critically evaluate information.
Strong communication skills are requisite, along with cultural sensitivity, particularly when working on international projects. Essential too are time management skills, and the capacity to work both independently and collaboratively, regardless of whether the job is remote, hybrid, or office-based. To truly excel as a HEOR medical writer, one must possess a blend of field-specific expertise, effective presentation skills, and a robust sense of ethics. Equipped with these qualities, HEOR medical writers can effectively bridge the gap between complex scientific information and the developing ways to make health economic decisions more evidence-based.
The profession of medical writing, especially in the area of HEOR, is experiencing significant growth and constant evolution. As healthcare costs continue to rise, the demand for skilled medical writers is increasing. This is driven by the need for clear, accurate, and concise communication of complex medical and economic information. Medical writers, especially those specialising in HEOR, play such a crucial yet exciting role in the healthcare industry, influencing decisions that have far-reaching implications for patient care and health economics.
Seeing that new technology and innovation bring great change to the healthcare industry, it is evident that medical writers serve as a link between intricate scientific research and the evidence-based decision-making processes in healthcare. In addition, the emergence of AI is set to transform many ways of HEOR medical writing. To thrive in this industry, medical writers need a blend of scientific knowledge, writing proficiency, statistical understanding, and ethical awareness. The future of medical writing, particularly in HEOR, looks promising, offering a rewarding career path for those with a passion for science, writing, and making a difference in the world of healthcare.
A few useful links for medical writing
- Medical Writing Market Size, Share & Trends Report, 2023 [Internet]. [cited 2024 Jan 22]. Available from: https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/medical-writing-market
- https://info.amwa.org/ultimate-guide-to-becoming-a-medical-writer Association AMW. Ultimate Guide to Becoming A Medical Writer [Internet]. [cited 2024 Jan 18]. Available from:
- https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.amwa.org/resource/resmgr/journal/Issues/2013/2013v28n3_online.pdf The AMWA Journal Vol28 Nr 3 Fall 2013 _online.pdf [Internet]. [cited 2024 Jan 18]. Available from:
- Sharma S. How to become a competent medical writer? Perspect Clin Res. 2010 Jan;1(1):33-7. PMID: 21829780; PMCID: PMC3149406.