Advisory boards have long been recognized as a crucial component of the life sciences landscape and have been delivered almost exclusively in a traditional format, involving the face-to-face participation of the medical industry’s most sought-after opinion leaders.
The travel and social distancing restrictions imposed as a consequence of COVID19 forced the Industry to pivot from this traditional format and resulted in a near-universal adoption of virtual platforms to facilitate these events.
The collective sentiment from clinicians and industry alike suggested that these new virtual formats were a welcome addition to the meeting landscape and there is an appetite to continue leveraging such platforms in the future – but to what extent remains unknown.
Now that many countries approach vaccination targets and life sets to resume with some normality, questions exist around the ideal mix of traditional versus virtual meeting approaches.
To this, Swipe Health (a digital medical communications agency that had leveraged 4 different virtual platforms to facilitate advisory boards over the past 12 months) undertook market research which resulted in the feedback of 62 Industry-classified Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) regarding their preferences for future advisory board formats.
A summary of those results is as follows:
If you could participate in only one advisory board meeting per year, which would be your preferred format?
Option A: Traditional (face-to-face, in-person meeting)
Option B: Virtual (Any/all platforms including real-time video meetings or anytime/asynchronous discussion platforms)
With a surprising 42% of respondents preferring virtual as a one-off medium over traditional, these results demonstrate just how far both the Industry and clinicians have come in terms of digital adoption in a very short time. It is presumed that convenience is the primary driver that has influenced this shift. However, the majority still prefer the human-centered approach of in-person meetings, despite the clear benefits of virtual convenience.
Question 2a: Looking forward, if you are invited to participate in several meetings/events per year, what would you prefer as the ideal breakdown of traditional versus virtual meetings?
Whilst there is a definite leaning towards virtual, what is abundantly clear is that clinicians value a balanced approach including both traditional and virtual events. The ideal balance will depend on the objectives, for example, a traditional kick-off meeting, integrated with an anytime discussion platform for a follow-up conversation.
It is worth noting that none of the respondents chose 100% traditionally.
Question 2b: Is there a preference for which virtual channel you’d rather engage with i.e. real-time video meetings v any-time discussion platforms?
Industry-wide anecdotal feedback suggests that the ideal structure for multiple events (depending upon content and objectives) was an integrated approach. However, there are multiple methods to integrate the platforms for optimal engagement/insight generation.
Anytime platforms appear to be more popular than video meetings. Aside from the obvious benefits of convenience, this may also be put down to the lack of individual contributions via real-time video meeting format, there is a much more even spread of contributions amongst KOLs on the anytime discussion platforms.
Question 3: Thinking of other industry meetings (aside from advisory boards), what is your preferred virtual channel for each of the following:
- Ongoing speaker tour meetings
- Working groups/steering committees
- Co-authoring documents
- New data/materials presentations
These results illustrate the importance of understanding what type of virtual platform to use and when. Presenting new data to stakeholders is much more meaningful and engaging via live video presentation, whereas working on documents is best done in an anytime environment.
One should also consider if an online event is necessary at all, as per one respondent’s comment:
“Sometimes just happy to discuss some questions with MSLs at no charge”.
Question 4: What’s the ideal duration of an advisory board for each of the following channels:
No surprises regarding traditional meetings, which is understandable as participants don’t want to travel to attend a mere 2-hour meeting.
However we were surprised to note that whilst several KOLs (and industry stakeholders) commented that video meetings were an adequate replacement for traditional, the survey results illustrate a clear difference in ideal time for each respective format – most likely influenced and attributable to “zoom fatigue”. To this, it is safe to assume that best practice would include more breaks for video meetings (from coffee breaks to focus-led activities) in order to keep attention spans optimal.
Question 5: Thinking of your own experience with different virtual advisory board platforms in the past 12 months, rate how each of the formats met your professional expectations.
As most users had previous experience with online video meetings, the responses for expectations being met in this instance were not surprising. Common frustrations with video platforms involved tech issues such as connections dropping out, problems with mute buttons, screen-sharing, and other problems that affected the momentum of meeting.
Interestingly, most participants were new to the concept of anytime discussion platforms, and to this, their experiences exceeded their initial thoughts and expectations.
Whilst 98% of respondents still prefer to have some form of face-to-face interaction in future advisory board meetings, these results suggest that a hybrid approach that integrates appropriate use of the correct platforms (real-time v any-time) will be pivotal for adhering to customer-centricity principles, whilst achieving optimal insight generation.
Steve Royle, BHSc
Steve Royle has been working in the life sciences industry for over 20 years, and experience includes various Industry marketing and sales roles, along with leadership roles across the US, UK, and Australia in Global Medical Communications agencies. Steve now owns Swipe Health, a digital medical communications agency, and has recently founded and launched Rumi (meetwithrumi.com), an any-time stakeholder insights platform to support medical affairs teams.