The primary purpose of the Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) role is to provide value to Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), in part, through the exchange of scientific information. In fact, the success of every MSL is based on their ability to add value to the KOLs they support! However, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a substantial impact on the activities of Medical Science Liaisons. As a result, there have been concerns regarding how effective MSLs have been in a virtual environment and their continued ability to add value to the KOLs they support.
Although the Medical Science Liaison Society (MSL Society) has conducted more than 200 global surveys and corresponding reports1, including two surveys in 2020 with KOLs regarding MSL-KOL engagements, there has never been any previously published data explicitly addressing the value of MSLs from the perspectives of KOLs during the pandemic. As a result, the MSL Society partnered with H1 to design a unique survey to gain insights into how MSLs can provide the most value to KOLs during the pandemic. The results of the survey revealed what KOLs find most valuable from MSLs, and the data may enable MSLs and MSL leaders in establishing realistic MSL-KOL engagement expectations, it may be useful in creating effective KOL strategic plans and ultimately contribute to an MSL’s ability to add value to the KOLs they support.
Upon completion of the survey design by the MSL Society and H1, a KOL research firm was hired to conduct the survey with KOLs based in the USA. This online survey was sent to KOLs across the USA and was opened from June 3rd – 21st, 2021. Respondents were only allowed to participate once, and duplicate surveys from a single email address were not accepted. The survey results were not weighted. Only Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) that responded that they interacted at least 1-2 times with a Medical Science Liaison (MSL) in the last 12 months were included in the data presented in this article.
PERSPECTIVES FROM KOLS REPRESENTING DIVERSE SPECIALTIES OF MEDICINE
The primary goal of the survey was to understand the value of Medical Science Liaisons from the perspectives of a diverse group of KOLs based on several factors. The survey included a total of 203 KOLs across the U.S. All KOLs who participated self-identified their specialty of medicine which represented 33 medical specialties*. Although the results had a wide variety of medical specialties, the highest representation was Obstetrics/Gynecology with 13.4%, and Neurology, Cardiovascular Diseases, and Oncology all at around 10% each. The remaining medical specialties made up less than 10% each.
AVERAGE TIME SPENT PER MONTH DURING KOL-MSL INTERACTIONS
Among other benefits, understanding how much time per month KOLs are meeting with MSLs during the COVID-19 pandemic can enable MSL Leaders to establish realistic expectations when evaluating KOL engagement KPIs and metrics. The vast majority (82%) of KOLs surveyed reported that they spend, on average, 5 hours or less per month meeting with MSLs from all companies combined. 13% of KOLs stated that they spent 6-10 hours per month, and less than 5% spent more than 10 hours per month meeting with MSLs. This insight underscores the importance of being as effective as possible when engaging with KOLs, as many have less than 5 hours each month to convey information.
IMPORTANCE OF TARGETED EMAIL SUBJECT
According to another 2021 global survey conducted by the MSL Society, 51% of MSLs reported that during the COVID-19 pandemic, building new relationships with KOLs was their primary challenge as a result of the lack of face-to-face KOL engagements3. One of the first steps in establishing a new KOL relationship is the initial introductory email and communication sent by an MSL. However, understanding what information to include in the subject line of an email is very important and will have a direct impact on the likelihood that a KOL will open and read the email. As a result, gaining insights from KOLs on what specific information they find most valuable and would encourage them to open an email is critical to the first step in successfully establishing a new relationship with a KOL.
The results of the survey revealed that the vast majority (80%) of KOLs reported that the subject that is most likely to encourage them to open an email must include “scientific updates on new/existing drugs/devices”, while 57% identified the topic of “clinical trial data”.
EFFICIENCY DURING IN-PERSON AND VIRTUAL INTERACTIONS
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was initial concern regarding whether MSLs would continue to be effective, engaging, and able to deliver value to KOLs in a virtual environment. Prior to the pandemic, MSL-KOL presentations have traditionally been in-person. However, multiple surveys with MSLs and KOLs conducted during the pandemic have confirmed that virtual engagements will continue after the pandemic has ended 4,5. Although 54% of KOLs revealed in-person meetings are the most effective and engaging, interestingly, 32% also revealed in-person and virtual interactions are equally effective, and another 14% stated MSLs delivered the most value during virtual interactions. Although there has been concern regarding how MSLs could continue to add value during virtual engagements as a result of the pandemic, it’s striking that 46% of KOLs reported that virtual or a combination of virtual and in-person interactions are effective. These results suggest that not only have MSLs successfully pivoted to virtual engagements, but KOLs find virtual engagements valuable.
PREFERENCE FOR MEETINGS
Beyond the pandemic, it will be essential to understand KOLs primary preferences for meeting with MSLs. It is clear that some combination of virtual and in-person KOL engagements will continue after the pandemic. In fact, although 43% of KOLs stated that their primary preference for meeting with MSLs after the COVID-19 pandemic would be in-person, the majority (57%) of KOLs indicated that they would prefer a combination of in-person and virtual (38%) or exclusively meeting with MSLs virtually (19%).
MOST VALUABLE CONTENT DURING VIRTUAL MEETINGS
One of the most important skills all MSLs need to be successful when engaging with KOLs is the ability to present scientific data effectively6. However, it’s essential for MSLs to know what specific type of content KOLs find most valuable to optimize virtual presentations. This information is crucial to successful scientific exchange. Although KOL-MSL engagements occurred virtually during the pandemic, presenting scientific data continued to be a vital element of the value that MSLs provide. In fact, 54% of KOLs reported that traditional PowerPoint slides were the most valuable type of content during virtual scientific discussions with an MSL. This data is essential in helping MSLs plan for effective engagements with KOLs.
TIME SPENT ON VIRTUAL MEETINGS
In 2015, an MSL Society survey revealed, on average, MSL-KOL engagements lasted 45 minutes.
Although the survey was limited exclusively to 205 Cardiovascular medicine KOLs based in the U.S., for the first time, the results provided quantitative data revealing the average length of time a typical MSL-KOL engagement lasted. However, several surveys conducted by the MSL Society during the COVID-19 pandemic have confirmed that MSLs are meeting less frequently with KOLs, and each meeting is typically shorter in duration2,5.
Understanding how long KOLs are typically willing to an MSL during a virtual engagement is essential for planning meetings and establishing realistic expectations. According to the survey results, 90% of KOLs revealed they typically meet with an MSL for 30 minutes or less during a virtual meeting. Interestingly, a majority (55%) of KOLs indicated their virtual engagements with MSLs typically lasted only 15 minutes.
During short engagements, it’s essential for MSLs to maximize the value they deliver while simultaneously recognizing and gathering actionable insights for future engagements7.
VALUABLE KOL INTERACTIONS
As a result of the limited access to KOLs during the COVID-19 pandemic, understanding what MSLs provide, that is most valuable is crucial to maintaining successful relationships. Identical to the top results for the question regarding what an MSL should include in the subject line of an email, KOLs revealed again that “Scientific updates on new/existing drugs/devices” (49%) and “Clinical trial data” (22%) provide the most value to them or their practice. These results suggest that KOLs perceive MSLs as a valued resource for medical information.
THE VALUE OF MEDICAL SCIENCE LIAISONS OR SALES REPRESENTATIVES
KOLs and HCPs frequently engage with both pharmaceutical sales representatives and MSLs from pharmaceutical companies. While the purpose of these two roles is fundamentally different, both sales reps and MSLs have scientific discussions with KOLs. However, until now, there has never been any data available regarding how KOLs perceive the value of scientific discussions with sales reps and MSLs. Interestingly, the survey results revealed that 76% of KOLs indicated that discussions with MSLs are “more valuable” or “much more valuable” than discussions with sales representatives. While these results are important for the long-term strategic planning and utilization of MSL teams, both roles will remain crucial to a company’s success.
VALUE OF IN-PERSON AND VIRTUAL INTERACTIONS
The final question in the survey focused on KOLs perceived value of virtual meetings during the pandemic compared to in-person meetings prior to the pandemic. Unexpectedly, 71% of KOLs indicated that virtual meetings with MSLs during the COVID-19 pandemic were more valuable (20%) or as valuable (51%) when compared to in-person meetings before the pandemic. Again, these results demonstrate that MSLs have successfully adapted to virtual engagements and continue to serve as a valued resource to the KOLs they support.
Although the primary goal of this survey was to understand how MSLs can provide the most value to the KOLs they are supporting during the pandemic, the results also revealed other important insights. Some of the additional important insights gained from this survey include: the reduced amount of time KOLs typically meet with an MSL during a virtual engagement, the type of content KOLs find most valuable, what MSLs provide that is most valuable to KOLs or their practice, and how valuable virtual meetings have been to KOLs when compared to in-person meetings.
Again, the unique insights gained from the results of this survey may enable MSLs and MSL leaders to establish realistic MSL-KOL engagement expectations, be useful in creating effective KOL strategic plans, and ultimately contribute to an MSL’s ability to add value to the KOLs they support.
Adding value to KOLs has been, and remains, the primary purpose of Medical Science Liaisons!
The full results of the survey have also been incorporated into an infographic that is available as a free download here.
- MSL Benchmarking Reports. https://www.themsls.org/msl-benchmarking-reports/
- MSL Activities During the COVID-19 Pandemic Report, 2020 MSL Society. www.themsls.org/covid-19-survey-results/
- The Primary Challenge Facing MSLs During the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Time Spent on Virtual Engagements with KOLs Report, 2021 MSL Society.
- How KOLs Prefer to Engage with MSLs During the COVID-19 Pandemic Report, 2020 MSL Society. www.themsls.org/covid-19-kol-engagement-survey/
- Interactions Between KOLs and MSLs During the COVID-19 Pandemic Report, 2020 MSL Society.
- 3-Day Medical Science Liaison Presentation & Communication Skills training program. www.themsls.org/msl-presentation-skills/
- Effectively Identifying, Gathering, and Communicating Actionable Insights from KOLs training program. www.themsls.org/identifying-communicating-kol-insights-training/
Dr. Samuel Dyer
CEO and Chairman of the Board
Dr. Samuel Dyer has over 21 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.