As the efforts of Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) are becoming increasingly prevalent, it has become pivotal to understand the strategic importance of Medical Affairs within the industry. With access to healthcare professionals (HCPs) and Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) severely curtailed during the pandemic, the expectation is that the limited time the KOL provides will be used for value addition. MSLs, with their ability to collate data for gaps in the existing clinical trials and discuss off-label topics, can provide crucial scientific value.
Commercial success is often attributed to the efforts of the sales team with little regard to correlating or backtracking success to the Medical Affairs efforts. MSL teams often lack the business intelligence (BI) and metrics to showcase the true value that transcends beyond scientific advocacy.
Common Challenges Among MSL Teams
We recently attended the 9th Annual MSL Society Conference live in Las Vegas, NV. It was one of our first in-person conferences since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and we were relearning how to talk to people live rather than through Zoom.
As we attended panels and spoke to a lot of MSLs and Medical Affairs Professionals, we learned a lot about the daily struggles, both new and old, faced by MSLs. We brainstormed some ideas and discussed how to overcome these obstacles.
Throughout these conversations, there were three topics that seemed to come up time and time again:
- MSLs would like to be involved earlier in the process of creating the product’s marketing strategy
- The desire to spend more time adding value rather than demonstrating the value-added to the organization
- Capturing actionable insights
Importance of Involving the MSL Team Early in Strategy Creation
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a trend already years in the making: reduced access to physicians. Both medical affairs and sales teams are getting fewer opportunities to spend time with physicians, and that means the time they do get needs to provide as much value to the physicians as possible. This is even more critical for product launches, especially for drugs with newer mechanisms of action where the market might not be as educated.
Typically, the marketing and medical affairs teams are brought in about 12-24 months in advance of the product launch. During their early interactions with HCPs, medical affairs obtain extraordinary insights that should be used as key inputs for the marketing strategy and product launch. However, there is a strong perception within the medical affairs community that the marketing and commercial teams tend to move too quickly early in the planning process, laying out the underlying strategy before medical affairs has had a chance to provide any feedback. This is not a new problem within the industry, where many product launches have been derailed because of preconceived notions of trying to reuse tactics that may have worked with another product launch.
A more progressive and effective way to approach strategy creation is by starting with medical affairs and allowing them to provide the initial insights that should inform the product’s marketing strategy. Bringing the medical affairs team early into the strategic discussions after they have spoken to the KOLs could increase the probability of launch success. A study by Bain Consulting that looked at why 65% of product launches are failing to meet their forecast identified the big bang approach towards KOL development as a key contributing factor. The study recommended the use of broader physician and patient advocacy allowing to vocalize blocking and tackling for a higher degree of success.
Demonstrating the Value of the MSL Team to the Organization
It can be difficult for MSL teams to show the impact being made and quantify the value provided through the success of scientific communications and interactions. Many MSL teams report spending countless hours putting together dashboards and reports in an attempt to demonstrate their value. Time that could be better spent elsewhere, such as meeting with HCPs and KOLs. Furthermore, they are sometimes asked to do activities that they are not directly responsible for, such as facilitating meetings with clinical sites experiencing stalled clinical trial enrollment. These types of tasks are not typically in their job description and fall under Clinical Operations. MSLs find themselves facilitating tasks that benefit the overall organization’s strategic goals.
This is an obstacle that has been faced by medical affairs and MSLs for as long as we can remember, and there are a few things that can be done to overcome this challenge, including:
- Creating a strategic framework and understanding key objectives
Interactions do not equal impact – let the sales team believe that fallacy. Successful medical affairs organizations are increasingly creating strategic imperatives for their organization that is informed by the organization’s strategy and medical objectives. They are creating KOL engagement plans and approaching each meeting with outcomes in mind.
- Arming your MSL team with the right resources and tools
IT support for medical affairs in most organizations is anemic. The best they currently can hope for is a CRM tool like Veeva or Salesforce.com which are designed for sales teams with the mentality that interactions equal impact. This only contributes to further frustration as MSLs are now capturing insights into ill-equipped tools.
Many Med Affairs organizations that have leaders that are strategic tend to create these KOL engagement plans and manage them in Excel spreadsheets with varying degrees of success. Some are increasingly able to convenience their IT departments to help digitize this process, others are turning to specialized SaaS vendors like TikaMobile.
Making sure your medical affairs team has the right resources available to them and the right tools in place to effectively and efficiently do their job is critical. Even better if the system is created and optimized with Life Sciences organizations, and medical affairs specifically. The system should have the ability to create target KOL lists, key attributes like publications, clinical trial information, interest, etc., and tracking interactions and eMIRFs within the platform. Most platforms today have these capabilities, but also important is that the system allows you to develop a KOL engagement plan, track KOL development, and capture insights within the system.
If this platform has strong artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, it will also have the ability to pull the data that is stored within your CRM system into actionable dashboards and reports that can be easily analyzed. This is where the systems really differ, as this will allow you to focus on adding value and spending time demonstrating that value you are adding.
Converting Interactions into actionable Insights and focusing on Outcomes
Capturing insights and acting on them consistently was identified as the biggest challenge by MSLs.
Approaching a KOL meeting with clear objectives and planning for it with clearly defined potential outcomes can be transformative. However, many organizations are not satisfied with the current processes being used to conduct meeting preparation. Most Medical Affairs professionals would agree that fewer engaging and high-quality interactions are typically more beneficial to an MSL than having many meandering interactions. But how to train the team and capture this in a repeatable way is a challenge.
This approach also has the added benefit of focusing the medical affairs team – allowing them to capture the insights with a clear idea on how they are helping with organizational imperatives. This approach makes insights more actionable.
Overcoming These Common Challenges
Although this is not an exhaustive list of all challenges faced by medical affairs teams, these are some of the most common topics you will hear being discussed at medical affairs-focused events. So, if your team is facing any (or all) of these obstacles, you are certainly not alone in your struggles. How you deal with and overcome these challenges is where companies and medical affairs teams differentiate themselves.
Are you facing these challenges? Contribute to the conversation – drop me a line at msharma at tikamobile.com.
About the author:
Manish Sharma, MBA
Manish is founder and CEO of TikaMobile, an enablement company focused on the medical affairs industry. He has a wealth of experience in medical device, pharma, and bio pharma product launches and is an expert in delivering the benefit of enterprise business intelligence to every level of the organization. He has been involved in executing and refining product launch strategies for clients in Urology, Orthopedics, Critical Care, Cardiovascular, CNS, and Oncology. His technique in converting a product launch strategy into patient, physician, and hospital centric mobile solutions have been successfully used worldwide by life sciences companies to drive higher HCP engagements.M
TikaMobile, Inc. is leading innovations in cloud-based mobile and analytics SaaS solutions for the life sciences industry. Dedicated to customer success, TikaMobile’s real time recommendation analytics go beyond CRM to give medical affairs and field sales teams ongoing, actionable intelligence. TikaMobile’s apps allow medical affairs teams to create KOL engagement plans, drive physicians on a development continuum and capture insights and outcomes. Our powerful, yet agile applications for Pharmaceutical and Medical Device organizations are easy-to-use, easy to deploy, and can accommodate companies of all sizes.