Medical Affairs teams have been challenged in the last year with the demise of face-to-face meetings as well as the inability to engage with their healthcare providers (HCPs) and key opinion leaders (KOLs) at scientific congresses. In addition, they have had to adapt to remote interactions and adopt new digital technologies to be able to function at their jobs. Working remotely adds another layer of stress since it can be lonely especially when they are faced with many challenges. To top it all, they are inundated with data from scientific congresses, advisory board meetings, surveys, collective insights from team members, medical inquiries, competitive intelligence, social media, real-world data on treatment practice which can all be overwhelming.
What are skills and tools that would help MSLs?
1. Leverage Data
Remote engagements with HCPs and KOLs require targeted messaging that provides healthcare professions information they need in a timely fashion. Hence the need to be able to understand what they are interested in. So having a good understanding of previous engagements, current treatment practice, which other Pharma companies they are already engaged with as well as publications and clinical trials they are involved in is important for getting insights on the target HCPs and KOLs. This is quite a lot of information to digest to plan their personalized engagements. In addition, especially in Oncology, key opinion leaders have taken to social media like Twitter to comment on trial results presented at scientific congresses such as AACR and ASCO. So social media could be just as an important source of information for engagement. Our experience working with several MSL teams is that many are not leveraging CRM to get information on their target HCPs/KOLs. The current tools are not able to uncover information from free-text notes buried in their CRM. Most teams depend on monthly reports generated internally or externally to gather business intelligence from multiple data sources. MSL organizations are beginning to realize that this creates a huge burden on their MSL teams because their HCPs/KOLs are expecting responses in real-time. So a “PULL” instead of “PUSH” data model is needed. In addition, becoming an expert in new areas such as diagnostics or real-world data requires training, let alone just understanding how to use their CRM effectively.
We definitely see an opportunity for Huma.AI to be part of the solution for Medical Affairs teams to embrace digital transformation. In order for Medical Affairs teams to adapt new machine-learning enabled technologies, solution companies need to provide accurate metrics on how these new solutions increase efficiencies and uncover new insights that can be leveraged for strategic planning across the organization and not just limited to MSL teams. Some of the features we see that will help reduce barriers are the need for ease-of-use platform solutions, explainable AI (so subject matter experts know how the answers are derived), and most importantly leveraging human intelligence through a feedback loop so the platform can continually learn from the users. Clearly, with Medical Affairs teams being subject matter experts, there is a need for deploying a human-centric AI approach to better understand patient experiences and gain insights into the behaviors of KOLs and HCPs. Medical affairs teams generate a vast amount of data but are not able to effectively leverage these data to personalize their HCP engagement. Human-centric AI allows for the ability to obtain all the relevant data, analyze it quickly, surface actionable insights and drive them back into operational systems in real-time to affect events as they are still unfolding. The advantage is to make fast and better decisions and quickly act on insights gained from across medical data. Agile MSL teams will succeed in the “Never Normal”.
2. Focus on Customer Engagement
The pandemic has highlighted the need to be empathetic towards HCPs/KOLs. They are inundated with requests for meetings, have to digest lots of information to keep abreast of their practice, and at the same time provide the best care for their patients. It is even more critical for MSLs to provide critical and relevant information to help them in their practice, closely monitor medical inquiries since these are time-sensitive and also provide opportunities for education. We are already seeing solutions adapting to this change. For example, on-demand content generation has become the new method of engaging with KOLs/HCPs. In addition, asynchronous medical education using social media is another powerful tool with growing popularity. The decline of in-person meetings has been met with a robust rise of digital education in the form of social media, podcasts, webinars, and more. “Tweetorials” are increasingly popular and, when done right, can be an effective medium for education. Also thinking creatively on leveraging multi-channel engagement tools will help alleviate the fatigue from too many video calls or spam emails. There have been several discussions on gamifying webinars and meetings to add in some fun and keep customers engaged remotely.
The bottom line, if HCPs/KOLs feel supported by their MSLs, they will be able to provide the best treatment options to their patients.
3. Think strategically- Medical Affairs influences the whole organization!
Unfortunately, the extraordinary circumstances in the past year require MSLs to become somewhat “Super-Humans”. In order to provide the best care to their patients, HCPs have to leverage information relating to treatment practice, access to diagnostic testing, management of adverse effects, patient support, etc. In order to support their HCPs/KOLs, MSLs are now tasked with ingesting these types of new data sources to provide the best options in terms of treatment and follow-up. Such as medical claims data, diagnostic testing data, social media besides traditional sources such as surveys, scientific congresses, and ad board meetings. In addition, MSLs have become the critical conduits of scientific information exchange with HCPs/KOLs. They can provide critical feedback back to their organizations that could shape the strategy for pipeline and new launches as well as prioritize initiatives to improve patient care. Besides HCPs/KOLs, there are other stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem including payers, patients, caregivers, diagnostic and medical device companies as well. MSL teams can now leverage internal teams that specifically engage with these other stakeholders to ensure patients get access to the best care available. In addition, MSLs have to become more aware of the overall business strategy to maximize their input and work closely with other parts of the organization including commercial colleagues.
4. Let your passion to help patients be your motivation
MSLs are key purveyors of scientific truth and viewed highly by HCPs/KOLs, and they are driven by their passion to help patients. Medical affairs organizations should empower them with tools that make their jobs easier and maximize their impact.
New tools, particularly machine-learning-enabled solutions, have shown value in facilitating HCP engagement in medical affairs. Because they are relatively new, the whole community can benefit from “lessons learned” from Medical Affairs teams that have successfully deployed such tools within their organization. As a result, one of the keys to empowering MSL teams is providing access to training on best practices on new tools. For example, simple training on how to use CRM effectively for KOL engagement would be a great first step. Leveraging platform solutions that can create on-demand content is critical with remote engagement to ensure the right and impactful information. Training sessions on best practices as well as successful use cases would be important to allay some of the hesitance to leverage social media.
Targeted and personalized messaging is paramount in the virtual engagement era where KOLs value MSLs who know exactly the information they need at the right time. “Rising above the noise”. Those who can leverage the “right” tools will succeed in this “never normal”. So it is critical for med affairs organizations to provide training and support to MSLs to help them get there.
MSLs are now being tasked to be “Super Humans” capable of ingesting vast amounts of data and providing strategic insights to both their HCPs/KOLs as well as their organizations. They chose this career path because they fundamentally have a passion to help patients. We as platform companies that provide tools to medical affairs should make it a priority to help MSL teams embrace digital transformation within their organizations. In order to do that, we need to have wider management buy-in and budget invested in order to deploy new technologies such as AI to empower MSLs and help them succeed. Let’s make this a priority.
Sabita Sankar, PhD
Dr. Sankar obtained her PhD from the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in Singapore. She completed her postdoctoral fellowships at Yale and Duke Universities. She then spent the next several years at Celgene as Group Leader in the Oncology Research Department and co-led the project team that developed CC-223 and CC-115, mTOR, and mTOR/DNA-PK inhibitors. Prior to joining Huma AI, she spent several years in both scientific affairs and business development roles at several diagnostic companies including MolecularMD, Biodesix, and Ambry Genetics, providing genomic and proteomic solutions to Pharma clients. Dr. Sankar’s expertise includes a unique mix of both drug discovery and diagnostic perspectives.
Lana Feng, PhD
Dr. Lana Feng is the co-founder and CEO of Huma.AI. She came from Novartis Oncology Business Unit where she established international partnerships for their late-stage targeted therapy programs. Dr. Feng joined Novartis through its acquisition of Genoptix. She built the BioPharma division at Genoptix, where she grew the business by forging alliances with pharmaceutical companies and providing biomarker and companion diagnostics development for targeted therapies. Prior to Genoptix, Dr. Feng held key positions at GeneOhm Sciences and Nanogen. Dr. Feng obtained her Ph.D. in Developmental Biology from Indiana University and did her post-doctoral training at UC, San Diego.