The coronavirus has created one of the most challenging environments the world has ever experienced. It has also generated an increasing demand for virtual online meetings by healthcare professionals (HCPs) in medical affairs.
Various other industry challenges are also driving this rising HCP need. These include the changing demographics of HCPs, more demands on their time, and stricter healthcare industry regulations. Such trends are providing medical science liaisons (MSLs) with new opportunities to integrate online meetings and associated digital activities as a key part of their medical affairs strategies.
Seven Key Steps for Online Meetings
In order to plan, design, manage and facilitate effective online medical affairs meetings, several essential steps are required. We have collated some of our key learnings, and have suggested the best practices to help you run an effective online meeting.
1. Start with a Defined Goal
- Ensure you know what you want to achieve from each of your online medical meetings before you start planning or deciding which digital platforms to use.
- Define and investigate your meeting participants. Once you know who you’re targeting, you can develop relevant content for their particular needs.
2. Develop Specific Online Meetings
A successful online medical affairs meeting involves much more than just presenting slides. The timing, activities, and interactions required for an online meeting will not be the same as those used for face-to-face training.
Therefore, don’t simply copy and paste a face-to-face meeting format. Start by planning and designing an online meeting as an online meeting, from the ground up. You can also selectively adapt current face-to-face content for an online meeting:
- Start by reviewing any current content you have, and remove any reading and research activities.
- Design the online event to allow participants to practice essential skills. For example, these activities could include role playing and discussing relevant case studies.
- Review the remaining content and decide what can be used as off-line pre-reading or post-reading, or other off-line learning.
3. Keep it Clear & Interactive
For each online meeting, aim to tell a story, keep the content clear, get the pacing right, and use powerful visuals. Regularly weave in a variety of audience interactions throughout the entire event in order to maintain participants’ ongoing engagement.
A skilled meeting facilitator can help you achieve these objectives and prompt participants and speakers to interact with each other every three to five minutes. Using a combination of polls, text chats, a whiteboard, breakout rooms, and/or question-and-answer sessions provides opportunities for engagement.
People often chat more online than in face-to-face meetings. Text chat can therefore allow more participation in less time compared to oral discussions.
4. Choose the Right Platform
It is important to choose the right platform technology for online meetings as each one will have a different set of requirements and objectives. The appropriate platform will depend on:
- Online audience size and the number of presenters/speakers
- The level of interactivity and/or breakout rooms required
- Required screen shares
- Whether all participants need to be on camera
Some platforms are designed for much larger audiences (e.g. webcasts,) while others are designed for smaller, more exclusive meetings (e.g. webinars.) There are also those that lend themselves perfectly to internal team meetings as they readily integrate with other technology.
Furthermore, there are platforms that may not be suitable for HCPs in hospitals if these platforms require downloads that may be blocked by internal network security systems.
5. Pick the Right Meeting Duration
People generally tend to have a shorter attention span when watching online meetings compared to face-to-face gatherings. Other distractions at home or in an office that can prompt online participants to start multi-tasking make it important to plan and use the right meeting design for virtual events.
- Space the learning content; people retain information best if they learn over time.
- Break the content into manageable parts during the session.
- Ideal duration of an online session is 90-120 minutes.
6. Build it Around Other Activities
Overall, MSLs should consider where online meetings fit in the range of their overall medical affairs strategies. It is unlikely that online meetings will completely replace the need for face-to-face events in the healthcare industry; however, they can be incorporated into your strategy to complement other activities.
Virtual meetings may not be appropriate for all medical affairs. MSLs should therefore consider using a blended approach to their medical affairs strategies delivered over time, using a variety of methods (Figure 1).
- Plan to have pre- and post- learning activities around an online meeting.
- Use a combination of electronic continued medical education modules (eCME), videos, audios and/or face-to-face meetings.
- If you are aiming to distribute information, this blended approach can enable your healthcare audiences to absorb more content using multiple methods.
7. Find a Skilled Facilitator
It is essential to have a skilled facilitator to plan, manage and deliver an online meeting. These professionals can keep a meeting interactive, coordinated, efficient and productive. They can also carry out essential test runs before the meeting, using the relevant technology platforms.
Many MSLs are now partnering with virtual communications agencies that specialize in online meetings and digital activities in order to deliver successful virtual meetings for their medical affairs strategies.
Figure 1: Examples of virtual meeting activities for medical affairs
- HCPs: Healthcare professionals
- eCME: electronic continuing medical education
Sarah Stickland is the Associate Director at The Corpus — dedicated providers of highly interactive virtual meetings. Sarah obtained her BSc in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Dundee, UK in 2004 and, since graduation, her career has focussed on the publishing and healthcare industries. Part of Sarah’s role at The Corpus is working with clients to define the right kind of virtual meeting for them — tailoring each program to fit their unique needs.