The COVID-19 pandemic has had a substantial impact on the activities of Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) including access to Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and how they engage with them 1. The Medical Science Liaison Society (MSL Society) has conducted several recent surveys to understand this impact and what the activities of MSLs have been during the pandemic. Although a recent survey conducted by Bain & Company regarding the adoption of digital tools within healthcare revealed “physicians already planned to increase their use of digital tools, but Covid-19 accelerated that effort”, there has been no published information available specifically addressing how KOLs prefer to engage with MSLs during the pandemic and their use of digital tools. Understanding this is crucial to the success of an MSL. As a result, the MSL Society partnered with H1 to design a unique survey to better understand the KOL/MSL relationship during this ever-evolving pandemic. This research was conducted to help the MSL community gain insights on how KOL preferences may have shifted due to both the pandemic and the adoption of digital tools to facilitate engagements.
A KOL research firm was hired to conduct a survey with KOLs in the USA. An online survey was created and open from April 30 – June 5, 2020 and sent to KOLs across the USA. The survey included 8 questions which were all required and only completed surveys were included in the data analysis.Respondents were only allowed to participate one time and duplicate surveys from a single email address were not accepted. The survey results were not weighted. Only KOLs that responded that they regularly interact with Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) were included in the survey results.
Perspectives from KOLs representing diverse specialties of medicine
One of the goals of the survey was to understand how a diverse group of KOLs prefer to engage with MSLs. KOLs were allowed to self-identify their specialty of medicine. As a result, a total of 475 KOLs representing a wide diversity of 21 specialties, all based in the USA, completed the survey. Of the KOLs who were represented in the survey, 22% specialized in obstetrics and gynecology, 20% specialized in cardiovascular disease, and 10% specialized in gastroenterology. The remaining specialties made up less than 10% each.
What is your preferred time for engagement?
40% of surveyed KOLs indicated the best time for MSLs to engage with them is in the afternoon, between noon and 5 PM. Another, 19% indicated that they have no specific preference for time. One encouraging insight gained from the survey is that KOLs are still expecting and willing to engage with MSLs. In fact, only 4% of KOLs are not open to engaging with MSLs at this time. It’s clear that although the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the activities of MSLs, 96% of surveyed KOLs are still receptive to engaging with MSLs.
How valuable are engagements during COVID-19?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, 61% of KOLs reported their engagements with MSLs to be “somewhat valuable” or “very valuable”. Only 4% of KOLs reported that their engagements with MSLs were not valuable.
The success of any MSL is dependent on their ability to add value to the KOLs they support. The fact that the majority of KOLs are gaining value from their interactions with Medical Science Liaisons demonstrates this success.
How important is it for KOLs to maintain contact with MSLs during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The vast majority (79%) of KOLs surveyed reported it was “somewhat important” or “very important” to maintain contact with MSLs during the pandemic. Only 4% of all KOLs surveyed reported that it was not important to maintain contact with MSLs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although KOLs were not asked in this survey why they value the exchange with MSLs, it’s reasonable to conclude that because KOLs consider it important to maintain contact with MSLs, they find their engagements to be valuable overall.
In general, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, how frequently do KOLs prefer to communicate with an MSL?
Although the KOLs in this survey reported a wide range of preferences related to the frequency of communication with MSLs, an overwhelming majority (73%) of survey respondents prefer engagements to continue to occur at least once a month. Interestingly, 2% reported they would prefer daily contact with MSLs! The fact that KOLs prefer and want continual communication with MSLs, especially during a pandemic, suggests that KOLs clearly place importance on their relationships with MSLs.
How receptive are KOLs to engaging virtually with MSLs?
One of the many challenges MSLs have had to adjust to during the COVID-19 pandemic is that their engagements with KOLs are now primarily virtual 1. As a result, a predominant concern for MSLs during the pandemic has been the willingness of KOLs to engage virtually 1. However, the KOLs that participated in this survey indicated a strong willingness to virtually engage with MSLs. In fact, 77% of all surveyed KOLs were either “somewhat receptive” or “very receptive” to engaging virtually (via Zoom, Skype, Webex, etc.) with MSLs. Only 6% were “not at all receptive” to virtual engagements. These results highlight the importance of MSLs and MSL leadership creating an effective KOL engagement strategy that is focused on virtual engagements.
Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, should MSLs continue to utilize virtual technology to engage with you?
The current pandemic has impacted multiple aspects of the MSL function and even after there is a return to some level of “new normal”, MSLs should expect to continue to engage with KOLs virtually. Not only are physicians clearly open and receptive to engaging utilizing digital technology, they expect it to continue with 66% of surveyed KOLs indicating that they would like to continue engaging virtually with MSLs.
What is the preferred method of communication for KOLs?
Interestingly, even during the pandemic, 82% of KOLs reported that their most preferred method of communication with MSLs is through email, a traditional method of communication. Although 55% of KOLs did report their second most preferred method of communication was using video, their third most preferred method was simply using telephone calls (48%); another traditional method of communication. What these results suggest is that although there is concern about how to implement new communication methods (e.g. video) and adjust to the necessity of virtual communication as a result of the pandemic, it’s clear that traditional communications methods (email and telephone) are still important and preferred by KOLs1.
Although this survey was primarily conducted to understand how KOL preferences may have shifted, due to both the pandemic and the adoption of digital tools to facilitate engagements with MSLs, the survey did reveal several other important insights. The most important insight gained from this survey is that MSLs and MSL leadership can use the data to manage their MSL/KOL communication and engagement expectations as well as create realistic KOL engagement plans. Doing so will 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 an MSL.
The full results of the survey have also been incorporated into an infographic that is available as a free download here.
- MSL Activities During the COVID-19 Pandemic Report, 2020 MSL Society
Dr. Samuel Dyer is the CEO and Chairman of the Board of the Medical Science Liaison Society.
Dr. Dyer has over 20 years of international MSL experience. During his career, he has managed MSL teams and operations in over sixty countries across the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Australia, and New Zealand. He has facilitated the successful launch of pharmaceutical and medical device products for both Fortune 500 pharmaceutical companies and small biotech’s.
He has led numerous MSL training programs over the last several years in more than 15 countries. He has written extensively on the Medical Science Liaison role, including numerous published articles, benchmark studies, and reports. He has also been a speaker at several global conferences presenting various MSL topics, including creating teams, management, global trends, and the metrics used to measure performance. Dr. Dyer has also worked as a consultant for a number of pharmaceutical and management consulting companies on MSL projects.
Dr. Dyer has a Ph.D. in Health Sciences and did his 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”. The book is the first step-by-step guide on how to break into the MSL career: (www.themslbook.com).
Ariel Katz started his first company in college, ResearchConnection, to help connect students with research opportunities. That company grew to over 40 universities and was eventually acquired by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Ewing Kauffman Foundation.
Next Ariel started two new ventures, one was to help track the scholarly output of medical students, Labspot, and the other was a joint venture with Shore Group to collect data to help scientists at universities make decisions. Shore Group, acquired both Labspot and GreenSight.
H1 then started. H1, led by Ariel, is a platform of every healthcare professional globally.
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