As a result of the new situation imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, KOL engagement has been limited at certain times. This has not only translated into less interaction between MSLs and KOLs/HCPs but also the approach to this interaction has had to be carried out in a virtual way, taking advantage of all possible resources (e-mail, video calls, telephone calls, WhatsApp, SMS). Nevertheless, some of the benefits that face-to-face meetings bring have been lost.
The purpose of this article is to illustrate how email has evolved to become a valuable tool in order for MSLs to interact with their KOLs/HCPs. During the registration of a webinar carried out by the MSL Society in November 2020 entitled “Everything you need to know about the MSL Society Conference 2020”, a pre-registration survey of 8 Questions was included. The results of this questionnaire will be presented here.
Email Exchange as a KOL engagement tool
Before the pandemic, communication through e-mail with KOLs/HPCs in many companies was not considered to be proper engagement. However, it seems that the new situation may have modified this view on the part of companies, so our questions were aimed at investigating whether e-mails were in fact a viable means of engagement for MSLs.
The first question was in relation to the pre-pandemic scenario. The question was as follows: Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, were email exchanges with KOLs counted towards an MSLs Metrics/KPIs at your company?
Figure 1. 149 MSLs, Sr MSLs, Medical Advisor (or equivalent title); Manager/Director of MSLs
As the graph indicates, prior to the pandemic, emails were not evaluated as a metric in 46% of cases, essentially, because e-mails were used for logistical purposes, so they were not considered valuable for their metrics.
The next question was: “Is e-mail exchange considered to be “KOL engagement” during the COVID-19 pandemic at your company? The objective was to find out if the perception of the respondents has changed due to the new situation. The results are illustrated in graph 2.
Figure 2. 145 MSLs, Sr MSLs, Medical Advisor (or equivalent title); Manager/Director of MSLs
In this case, we found that 81% of the respondents stated that emails are considered a valid tool for KOL engagement during the pandemic. In terms of global distribution, Europe is the territory in which emails are most considered to be a valid tool for engagement, with results above the average of global responses.
It should be noted that these results include responses from all types of companies, with large pharmaceutical companies being in the majority.
On the other hand, a survey conducted in the USA involving more than 450 KOLs/HCPs (MSL Society survey, June 5, 2020) included the following question: During the pandemic, how did KOLs prefer to engage with MSLs? To which 82% of those surveyed answered that e-mail was their preference. This data, which coincides with the data here, also shows that KOLs now value this resource as a tool for scientific exchanges with MSLs.
E-mail Exchange as a KPI
Since email is a valid and quality engagement channel for interactions with KOLs / HCPs according to the results of the questionnaire, it should therefore be considered from now on in the analysis of metrics in all companies.
Regarding this point, our next question was whether e-mails were currently included in KPIs in the respondent’s company. 71% of responses reflect that the exchange of e-mails with KOLs/HCPs are included in their KPIs, compared to 29% who say they are not.
Figure 3. 117 MSLs, Sr MSLs, Medical Advisor (or equivalent title); Manager/Director of MSLs
What can be observed when analyzing the results is that during COVID-19, emails gained more importance and that most companies have incorporated this method of interaction into their metrics.
Additionally, the questionnaire explored the opinion of MSLs on the inclusion of emails as KPIs or metrics in the final question: Should email exchanges with KOLs during the COVID-19 pandemic be counted towards an MSLs Metrics / KPIs?
Figure 4. 120 MSLs, Sr MSLs, Medical Advisor (or equivalent title)
As can be seen in the graph, the opinion is quite unanimous, with a percentage of 90% agreeing that e-mails should be included as a tool that weights in their KPIs and counted as a valid way to engage.
This reflects the very versatile profile that MSLs possess in their ability to adapt to the new paradigm imposed by the pandemic: the use of technology so as not to lose contact and to continue their role as scientific interlocutors by interacting through e-mail. MSLs have demonstrated their chameleonic capacity to efficiently carry out their roles in a virtual way, without changing their vision or mission, while continuing to provide interactions of high impact and scientific value.
After the data exemplified here, from our point of view, we advise considering e-mail as an engagement tool, as long as the scientific exchange is obtained from the KOLs or HCPs, that is, there is a virtual interaction in this format, and also this e-mail meets any of the following objectives:
- Resolution of a specific doubt or question posed by an HCP (KOL and non-KOL)
- Resolution of doubts or questions that have arisen during a previous virtual interaction
- Medical-scientific updates that the MSL considers relevant to keep HCP (KOL and non-KOL) updated (typically based upon HCP prior request for updates)
- Proposals and monitoring of follow up actions or projects such as the development of studies initiated by researchers (IITs), clinical trials (EECC), Advisory Boards, scientific support for clinical sessions (Speaker Briefing), scientific meetings (face-to-face or virtual conferences (Workshops / Webinars)) or publications
- Medical Information Responses where substantive medical or scientific information is provided
However, we recommend that the following email interactions should not be considered valid:
- E-mail introducing the company or the MSL itself to a new HCP
- E-mails derived from the organization and planning of interactions (face-to-face or virtual).
- E-mails of invitation to a virtual interaction (with or without a link to a webinar, session, or virtual interaction).
- E-mails without scientific exchange to foster personal relationships.
As expressed at the beginning of the article, the current situation has changed for everyone; companies and MSLs are aware that the metrics are not simply the number of interactions, but their quality. An E-mail has proven to be a means by which scientific discussions can be carried out with KOLs / HCPs and highly valuable insight can be obtained and thus maintaining the standards of technical quality.
Despite the limitations of the pandemic, KOLs / HCPs have continued to generate requests for information and resolution of doubts. Needs and opportunities have been detected through e-mails, which have highlighted the value of MSLs as scientific interlocutors in even the most challenging times.
CLAUDIA CONESA, Pharma MBA
Claudia Conesa holds a degree in Pharmacy and a Pharma MBA. She has almost 2 years of experience in the Pharmaceutical & Biotech industry; in Medical Affairs and R&D department. Experienced in Medical Communication, educational virtual events, and aspiring MSL, she is currently working at Amgen, specialized in Inflammation, Bone Metabolism, and Biosimilars.
Cristina has more than 10 years of experience in the Pharmaceutical & Biotech Industry. She is currently an MSL Manager at Persan Farma, specialized in Clinical Nutrition, especially focused on therapeutic areas as Endocrinology, Oncology, Surgery, and Gerontology. She is developing her doctoral thesis at the Department of Biomedicine, Translational Research and New Technologies at Malaga University.
In 2019, she received the MSL Manager Award of the Year (Outside USA) from the MSL Society.
She is also a member of the Advisory Committee in the Spanish Chapter of the Medical Science Liaison Society.
MARTINA RIOSALIDO, MSc
Martina has more than 13 years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical & Biotech industry, in Training, Marketing, and Medical Affairs departments, overseeing both national and international projects for subsidiaries and headquarters within a multicultural work environment. She is currently an MSL with Gilead, focusing on COVID-19 ant-viral drugs. In 2019, she received the MSL of the Year-Outside USA from the MSL Society.
VICTOR SASTRE, M.Sc, MSL-BC
Victor has more than 20 years of experience in the pharmaceutical & biotech industry, Medical Affairs, and R&D. Professor in several Masters and Pharma MBA Coordinator. Passionate and author of various publications related to the MSL position. He is currently a Senior MSL in Amgen, with responsibility in Bone Metabolism, Neuroscience, Inflammation, and Biosimilars. Victor has previous experience at Parke-Davis and Pfizer. In 2018, he received the MSL Award of the Year-Outside USA from the MSL Society. Victor is also a Board-Certified Medical Science Liaison (MSL-BC®).