Attending medical conferences and intelligence gathering are important activities for most Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs). In fact, a recent global survey conducted by the Medical Science Liaison Society (MSL Society) found that globally 97% of MSLs attend medical conferences while 85% participate in gathering insights (1).
Historically, intelligence gathering and deepening KOL relationships have been two of the primary benefits of attending Medical conferences. However, over the last few years, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became necessary to attend medical conferences primarily virtually which made it more difficult for MSLs to engage with KOLs during medical conferences effectively.
Many medical conferences have now resumed in-person attendance, and as a result, MSL and Medical Affairs teams are beginning to strategize and attend medical conferences in-person again. The MSL Society recently conducted a global survey to gain a better understanding of the current practices and challenges encountered when planning for and attending medical conferences for the purpose of trying to achieve effective KOL engagement and intelligence gathering during medical conferences. The following data includes insights that have never been available before this survey.
A global survey was conducted from May 6th – 26th, 2022, and only completed surveys were included in the data analysis. Respondents were only allowed to participate one time, and duplicate surveys from a single email address were not accepted. The survey results were not weighted. The survey included responses from 739 individuals from 58 countries. However, only responses from individuals that identified their current role as 1. MSL, Sr. MSL, Medical Advisor (or equivalent title) OR 2. Manager / Director of MSLs (or equivalent title) are included in the data presented in this article. These two combined roles resulted in a total of 501 individuals from 47 countries analyzed in the tables below. Respondents were invited to participate in the survey through:
- Announcements in the “Medical Science Liaison & Medical Affairs Networkers” LinkedIn group
- The MSL Society newsletter
- Various LinkedIn posts
There was almost equal distribution amongst MSL professionals from pharmaceutical companies which represented the majority of respondents. In fact, 81% of MSLs and MSL Managers in the global survey work at a small, medium, or large pharmaceutical/biotechnology company. The remainder of MSLs and Managers work for medical device, diagnostic companies, contract MSL organizations, contract research organizations, and other companies.
YEARS OF MSL/MSL MANAGEMENT EXPERIENCE
Interestingly, 48% of MSLs and Managers represented in this survey have two years or less of experience and as a result, may never have attended a medical conference in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The remaining 52% of MSLs and Managers have three or more years of experience which likely includes those that have attended in-person medical conferences prior to the pandemic.
NUMBER OF MSL ATTENDEES
An important aspect of conference attendance strategy is determining the number of MSLs needed to adequately cover the relevant sessions throughout the conference, coverage of the medical affairs booth, etc. For the majority of teams, the number of MSLs attending medical conferences in person is relatively small. In fact, 58% of MSLs and Managers reported that their team sends 1-4 MSLs in-person to the major medical conferences in the therapeutic area they support. Interestingly, 3% of MSLs and MSL leaders revealed that their company does not currently send any MSLs in person to medical conferences.
NUMBER OF CONFERENCES ATTENDED ANNUALLY
The number of medical conferences MSLs attend may be influenced by several factors including the size of the therapeutic area they support, the number of product competitors, where a product is at in its lifecycle, and if new data is being published to support a product, among many other factors. The majority of MSLs and Managers (52%) revealed MSLs on their team attend more than five medical conferences per year including 15% who reported that MSLs attend more than ten medical conferences per year.
An important element of effective conference coverage is planning. However, with MSLs attending numerous conferences each year, the time dedicated to planning varies. The survey revealed that about half (49%) of MSLs and Managers begin planning conference coverage 2-3 months before each event. While only 11% of MSLs and Managers reported planning for more than six months before an event.
CHALLENGES IN PLANNING AND PREPARING FOR MEDICAL CONFERENCE COVERAGE
There are numerous challenges in planning and preparing for effective medical conference coverage. In fact, the survey revealed that the two most common challenges when planning and preparing for medical conference coverage were “not having conference agenda early enough / not enough information about agenda topics” (29%) and “understanding the purpose of attending and the objectives of conference coverage” (22%). There were also several other challenges reported including an inadequate number of team members to staff a medical booth, not starting the planning early enough, not coordinating with commercial efforts, and training the field medical team on strategy and relevant new data.
TEAM AND INDIVIDUAL OBJECTIVES
Having clear objectives is an important element of effective conference planning. Although the survey revealed that 77% of MSLs have clearly defined individual and team objectives when attending Medical Conferences, concerningly, 23% also reported they do not have clear objectives.
MEDICAL BOOTH TRAINING
An Important activity for many MSLs while attending Medical Conferences is working in a medical booth. However, 31% of MSLs and Managers reported that their company does not provide MSLs any training prior to working in a medical booth.
CHALLENGES OF MEETING MANAGEMENT AND KOL ENGAGEMENT
There were several challenges reported by MSLs regarding meeting management and KOL engagement during Medical conferences. One of the goals for attending Medical Conferences should be engaging with and further building value-added relationships with KOLs. However, the primary challenge reported by almost half (49%) of MSLs was “scheduling meetings with / access to KOLs in attendance”.
CHALLENGES OF GATHERING AND SYNTHESIZING INTELLIGENCE
One of the goals for attending Medical Conferences typically includes gathering intelligence for the product, the disease state, or the therapeutic area that MSLs support. However, there were also several challenges reported by MSLs regarding gathering and synthesizing intelligence during Medical conferences. The three most common challenges identified by MSLs, which represents the overall majority, were “reviewing and distilling all relevant meeting data post-conference to evaluate their relevance” (21%), a “lack of clear direction of what specific information should be gathered, and synthesized” (20%) and “capturing medical insights during KOL engagements and medical booth interactions” (19%).
CHALLENGES OF DATA REPORTING AND SHARING
One of the objectives for MSLs attending Medical Conferences should include adding value to their company by reporting and sharing relevant information gained during the conference. However, there were also several challenges revealed by MSLs regarding reporting and sharing data. The majority of MSLs revealed that their primary challenge was “reporting on all captured meeting notes” (23%), a “lack of clear direction of what is expected to be included in a conference report” (17%), or “exporting and organizing gathered intelligence and materials while minimizing duplication with a team” (16%).
USEFUL OUTPUT OF ATTENDING MEDICAL CONFERENCES
Having clear outcomes is crucial to successful Medical Conference planning. The majority (72%) of MSLs reported that the two most useful outputs from an MSL attending Medical Conferences were “effective KOL engagement with actionable feedback, and scheduled follow-ups” (40%) or “new data/insights regarding competitive intelligence, disease state updates” (32%). Other useful output included a list of conference attendees with contact information for follow-up and general company/product exposure while deepening internal knowledge.
VALUE OF MEDICAL CONFERENCES
Sending MSLs and others from Medical Affairs to attend an in-person Medical Conference can incur significant costs (e.g. hotel, flights, etc.) so it is crucial to ensure there is the value gained from those attending. It’s encouraging that nearly all MSLs and Managers (99%) in the survey reported that they find it valuable to attend Medical Conferences which may contribute to the success of conference planning and attendance.
Medical conferences are valuable for sharing and gathering insights related to the development of products that MSL teams support. Attending medical conferences has historically been an effective method for MSLs, MSL leaders, and others in Medical Affairs to discuss the latest clinical/medical developments for the products they support, gain insights and knowledge, and serve as another venue for engaging in person with KOLs. However, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted KOL engagement and intelligence gathering during virtual Medical conferences. Two plus years after the beginning of the global pandemic, many medical conferences have resumed in-person attendance, and MSLs and Medical Affairs teams are beginning to plan and attend medical conferences in person again. As a result, the MSL Society recently conducted a global survey to gain a better understanding of the current practices and challenges when planning for and attending medical conferences.
The results of this survey highlight the numerous challenges when planning and strategizing MSL team attendance during Medical conferences. The information gathered from this survey reveals best practices amongst MSLs and Managers regarding conference planning. These insights may be useful in raising awareness and addressing the most common challenges of attending Medical conferences with the ultimate goal of achieving effective KOL engagement and intelligence gathering during Medical Conferences.
- Global MSL Salary & Compensation Survey. 2021 MSL Society
- MSL Activities: Attending Medical Conferences Survey. 2022 MSL Society
Both references are among the more than 225 global surveys conducted and published by the MSL Society. All the surveys and corresponding reports are available to all professional-level members on the website (www.themsls.org).
Dr. Samuel Dyer
CEO and Chairman of the Board
Dr. Samuel Dyer has over 22 years of experience within the International MSL community while working for a number of top global companies. During his career, he has led MSL / Medical Teams in multiple TA’s in over 60 countries throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, Africa, Middle East, Australia, and Asia.
His management experience includes small (2+) to large (240+) MSL teams across multiple TA’s. Throughout his career, Dr. Dyer has worked on MSL and Medical Affairs strategy and has extensive experience in creating strategic MSL utilization and medical communication plans. He has designed and created global MSL training programs that have included: onboarding programs, KOL Medical communication plans, strategic assessments, planning, and execution in geographical locations with diverse cultures /languages. Dr. Dyer has successfully launched both pharmaceutical and medical device MSL teams both in the U.S. and internationally.
Dr. Dyer has also written extensively on the Medical Science Liaison role, including numerous published articles, benchmark studies, and reports. Dr. Dyer is well recognized within the global MSL community and has developed an extensive international network within the Pharmaceutical, CRO, Medical Device, and Biotechnology industries. He is the owner of the largest group on LinkedIn for MSLs and Medical Affairs with over 25,000 members. He has spoken and moderated several international conferences on various MSL topics including KOL management, creating MSL teams, MSL training, international MSL teams, and the value of the MSL role and Medical Affairs. Dr. Dyer is consistently sought out as a resource and consultant for MSL projects that have included diverse companies such as McKinsey Consulting, Bain and Co., and Philips Healthcare.
Dr. Dyer has a Ph.D. in Health Sciences and did medical training in Chicago. He has a Master’s Degree in Tropical Biology (where he studied in the Amazon) and has a B.S. in Biology. Dr. Dyer also completed a certificate program for Executive Leadership and Strategy in Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology at the Harvard Business School.
Dr. Dyer is the author of the Amazon #1 Best Seller “The Medical Science Liaison Career Guide: How to Break into Your First Role” (www.themslbook.com) which is the first book published on how to break into the MSL role.