The term “metaverse” refers to immersive 3D virtual spaces encompassing a broad array of emerging technologies focused on social connection. Over the past three months, several leaders of a field medical science liaison (MSL) team at Syneos Health® initiated several innovative pilot programs leveraging unique components of metaverse technologies with the purpose of enhancing core medical affairs (MA) functions. This report details an early attempt at integrating certain aspects of the metaverse with more traditional learning solutions in an effort to increase the efficiency of training field medical teams while also familiarizing them with new technology that could transform the nature of fieldwork in the not-too-distant future. The following summarizes the hypothesis, methodology, results, and initial conclusions of one such experiment.
At its very core, the medical affairs discipline focuses on educating internal and external stakeholders on complex scientific and medical topics. Over the past 50 years, MA leaders from across the life science industry have consistently explored and invested in new technological innovations to engage their healthcare provider (HCP) audience more effectively and efficiently, and with greater satisfaction. One of the most intriguing technological innovations of today and the foreseeable future is metaverse technology. It presents an almost endless array of potential novel engagement opportunities if implemented and utilized appropriately.
Unfortunately, few, if any, publications have shared quantifiable results of utilizing elements of the metaverse to deliver against traditional MA key performance indicators. Furthermore, the ideal future scenario might theoretically be for MSLs to engage thought leaders and other external stakeholders in a customized company-specific metaverse. However, there are several considerations and potential risks that need to be addressed before such a platform is viable for medical customer engagement. These considerations and risks may include but are not limited to, compliance, privacy, and security concerns. While potentially complicated to implement in this way, the authors are optimistic these obstacles will be overcome through continuous innovation and corporate due diligence.
The authors have identified various medical affairs cohorts with whom to engage and integrate select metaverse technologies. The case featured here arose as a global pharmaceutical company requested the author and the leadership team to hire, train and field deploy a national MSL team within a very compressed timeline of six weeks. This scenario presented us with the opportunity to pilot an innovative approach to MSL training that capitalized on specific components of the metaverse.
Although full integration of metaverse technology is not quite ready for prime time as it relates to external customer engagement in medical affairs, we experienced an epiphany during our exploratory journey evaluating this innovative and groundbreaking technology. By taking a step back and scaling unique metaverse technologies to internal MSL training initiatives, we theorized that this could dramatically enhance the preparation of our MSL teams in the short term while providing the opportunity to gain experience with the technology platforms that may be used to engage external stakeholders when the barriers described above have been overcome. We are the first to report on a metaverse-focused pilot in medical affairs that showed demonstrable benefits in the following areas we defined as critical success factors for our MSL field teams, these include:
- Improving the delivery of complex internal medical training.
- Enhancing learning satisfaction among MSL teams.
- Providing an increasingly collaborative and engaging space for MSLs.
- Achieving a pass rate equal to or higher than the industry pass rate of MSL field certification assessments.
- Shortening the time from hire date to full field deployment without any compromises in MSL knowledge and skills.
Our long-term hypothesis is that by improving MSL training in the aforementioned areas, we will ultimately improve MSL interactions with HCPs upon field deployment.
This request from the MSL team arose from four very common and relatable challenges in educating today’s MSL. These include:
- The sheer complexity of the scientific and medical training content.
- The geographic dispersion of national MSL teams causes a lack of camaraderie.
- Current hybrid learning solutions are becoming stale, outdated, and less engaging.
- Members of MSL teams can experience virtual meeting fatigue.
The managers of this MSL team determined that the best learning strategy would be to complement traditional didactic learning approaches with innovative metaverse technology elements to create a more engaging and interactive learning environment. The approach we took to overcome the previously mentioned challenges included converting complex didactic information to gamified content while incorporating elements of the metaverse in a fun and social manner. This helped reinforce key learnings and increase interactions among teammates while overcoming the perceived monotony of standard training methods. These individual solutions are not by themselves pioneering efforts, but combining them in a virtual meeting platform utilizing unique metaverse features was a crucial first step in producing greater positive outcomes in the ways MSLs learn, work, and interact every day.
The use of a digital avatar added a virtual dimension to the training content that appeared fun and energizing for the team. The MSLs knew their regional manager was behind the voice of the avatar and this created a heightened connection for the participants. The MSL trainees on the call noted an enthusiastic response that carried a new training “energy” into their virtual classroom experience. In relation to the challenges outlined above, the following observations were made:
- Gamification led to an increased desire of MSLs to thoroughly understand all of the material as they tried to win friendly competitions with teammates.
- MSL anticipation of a new and novel learning approach created an eagerness to attend and remain on the entire extended training sessions. Communication and collaboration among the MSLs increased.
- The use of a digital avatar created a heightened connection between the manager and the MSL team that was more engaging than using traditional camera feeds (refer to Figure 1 below).
- More interactivity among the MSL team during the session helped to reduce virtual meeting fatigue; every MSL camera remained on throughout the entirety of the training session.
Anecdotally, learners noted that the training session and learner experience were very desirable. Throughout this novel training session, the regional manager was able to simplify and convert complex didactic materials to gamified content which was embraced by the MSL team for its level of interactivity and entertainment. Learners and facilitators noted that the integration of certain components of metaverse technology could potentially be a valued resource moving forward because it helped learners reinforce their understanding of key materials. In total, this complementary learning approach was used over three consecutive weeks of the six-week training program.
Figure 1. Digital avatar used during an MSL gamified1 learning session.
A brief survey was completed by the initial group of nine MSLs to evaluate their opinions on this novel metaverse-focused learning approach. The following table summarizes the survey questions and responses:
|Question||Average Rating (Standard Deviation)||Range (Median)|
|On a scale of 1-10 (1-Not engaging at all to 10-Very engaging), how engaged were you regarding the training material presented using metaverse elements (e.g., digital avatar, gamification)?||9.2 (1.1)||7-10 (10)|
|On a scale of 1-10 (1-Did not have an impact to 10-Had a tremendous impact), how did this learning approach impact your comprehension of the training materials?||8.4 (1.6)||5-10 (8)|
|Would you like to see future team learnings utilize a similar approach of leveraging metaverse technologies? YES/NO||YES = 7 (78%)
NO = 2 (22%)
At the time of this publication, the first five MSLs who participated in this novel metaverse-related training yielded a successful pass rate of 100% for their final field MSL certification assessment. These results demonstrate that this learning approach was at least as effective as current methodologies even under a compressed timeline.
Several MSLs have proactively requested that future training courses be delivered through a fully immersive metaverse platform. Learners repeatedly stated that the metaverse enables many benefits, with highlights such as the platform allowing greater interactivity and fostering team-building. They also noted this approach increased their confidence and improved their comprehension of the complex scientific training data.
As mentioned in the introduction, the metaverse employs a broad array of emerging technologies. Consequently, the rapid evolution of the metaverse makes it challenging to determine how and what elements are viable for medical affairs business purposes in the future, and how they will be implemented. Regardless of where metaverse platforms end up, there is potential for tremendous benefit for medical affairs functions to embrace, pilot, and integrate the current state of the technology to enhance the delivery of internal MSL training.
We cannot wait for metaverse technology to be perfect before adopting its use. It is imperative that medical affairs personnel stay up to date on technological innovations such as this and try to remain at the forefront of this technological revolution. This is the first of a multi-part series of metaverse-focused publications centered around medical affairs. A fully immersive metaverse pilot in medical affairs is currently underway.
- Hsu, Timothy. 2012 January 1. Wheel of Fortune for PowerPoint. Games by Tim. Retrieved January 10, 2023, from https://www.gamesbytim.com/wheel-of-fortune-for-powerpoint/
Michael Shim, PharmD
Michael Shim serves as a Regional Manager for the division of Deployment Solutions at Syneos Health. He is an innovative leader who is passionate about strategic planning to support product launches and developing operational enhancements to optimize Medical Affairs excellence.
Josh Yoder, PhD, MSL-BC
Josh has been an MSL for almost 6 years (2 years in vaccines and 2 years in Cystic Fibrosis (rare disease)). He has been involved in 5 drug launches and is experienced in HEOR and payer presentations. Josh also has over 15 years of academic R&D experience (biochemistry, biophysics, structural biology, virology) including PhD in biomedical sciences (virology), and R&D experience in insulin with a small biotech startup.
Drew has spent nearly two decades serving across the Life Sciences industry – from roles in direct patient care to leading teams across marketing, sales, and broader commercialization at Lilly, GSK, and Gelesis. Recently, he has also led innovation at Syneos Health, and in his current role, Drew is charged with building and evolving new ways for educating patients, providers, and his peers across the industry.
Celeste brings over 25 years of industry experience to the learning solutions capability at Syneos Health. She is a recognized leader in the industry as a past Healthcare Business Women’s Syneos Health Luminary Award Winner and 2021 LTEN Excellence Award Winner. Celeste will bring deep industry experience, strong partnering skills, and keen insights on learning trends into strategic training conversations. Her expertise in Adult Learning, assessment and measurement will also allow her to quantifiably demonstrate the value of learning/training.
Randy Miller, PharmD
Randy is an SVP, Field Medical Affairs, and Clinical Educators at Syneos Health, supporting the deployment of the MSL and Clinical Educator teams. His passion is medical excellence, employee growth and development, and driving operational effectiveness. Randy holds pharmacy licensure in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Prior Employers: CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens Pharmacy, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals
Previous TA experience: Leading MSL teams in respiratory/CV/metabolism and orphan/rare disease
Born and raised in the Boston area. Currently reside in Connecticut with my wife Shana, 2 sons Zachary and Brayden, and his mini-Goldendoodle, Cisco.
Hobbies include running, skiing, cycling, travel, and cooking…., especially at the barbeque! Big sports fan, especially the Boston Celtics and Boston Red Sox. Go, Sox!