Syneos Health® worked to integrate certain aspects of the metaverse to create a new and immersive experience for the end-user, resulting in enhanced medical science liaison (MSL) training in an engaging environment.
In the Spring 2023 issue of the Journal of the MSL Society we presented positive results of our initial pilot program that integrated a few aspects of the metaverse such as gamification and the use of a digital avatar into traditional MSL learning solutions. As a follow-up to these prior findings, we present a larger-scale, immersive metaverse pilot involving 14 medical science liaisons (MSLs) from a large pharmaceutical company.
This MSL team completed a portion of their clinical training in a social metaverse platform that was repurposed for training use. We hope to show that scaled use of existing metaverse technology can enhance MSL training outcomes without the need for complex changes to traditional didactic content and methods. This metaverse platform was selected based on select features and capabilities listed below that aligned with our company and team’s learning needs and objectives. Each of these will be discussed in more detail throughout the article:
- The unique configuration of the digital avatar and server set-up helped address security and privacy concerns.
- Additional hardware like virtual reality (VR) headsets were not required, thus improving access.
- User-friendly interface was conducive across generational users; no tech savviness was necessary.
- This metaverse platform allowed for multiple, simultaneous learnings, thus increasing engagement & productivity.
- This metaverse platform was cost-effective in that it costs less than a quarter of other competitor platforms.
Our journey using the metaverse began with scaling its functionality for internal MSL training initiatives. We believe this approach can dramatically enhance the preparation of our MSL teams in the short term, while providing the opportunity to gain experience using an innovative technology that might one day enable MSLs to conduct external customer engagements (e.g., key opinion leaders (KOLs)) in the metaverse. Our long-term hypothesis is that using the metaverse will improve MSL training in the following areas, which will result in improved quality and even the impact of MSL interactions with health care providers (HCPs) upon field deployment:
- Improving the delivery of complex internal medical training.
- Enhancing learners’ satisfaction among MSL teams.
- Providing an increasingly collaborative and engaging space for MSLs.
- Achieving a pass rate equal to or higher than traditional industry certification pass rates.
- Shortening the time from hire date to full field deployment without any compromise in MSL knowledge and skills.
In our previous pilot, the first 5 MSLs on this 14-person MSL team passed their field certification assessments within a compressed training timeline of 6 weeks. We present a follow-up to this case series of the remaining 9 MSLs who were exposed to an immersive peer-to-peer metaverse training session that involved the help of both the initial 5 MSLs who were field deployed and two regional MSL managers. The training session was 1 hour and 15 minutes in length.
We will share our perspectives on how we successfully scaled this metaverse to meet our specific training needs and objectives. We will also provide an overview of how this training session was organized to meet the learning needs of our MSL team. Our hope is that the approach we took can be replicated with similar results for other MSL teams across the medical affairs industry. We encourage our peers to lean into innovative technology solutions for training that demonstrate key differentiating criteria.
Security & Privacy
This pilot involved the use of a browser-based social metaverse platform. Using this metaverse helped resolve important security and privacy concerns. With respect to security, it uses a closed channel making it amenable to host company meetings. It also uses a central Amazon server to ensure important data, such as confidential business information are kept secure.
With respect to privacy, this metaverse allows users to see a live-streaming camera feed of the user, serving as a simple, but effective form of visual authentication. For some users, it may be comforting to know who the actual user is behind the avatar. This is a feature many other metaverse platforms lack.
Lastly, it is important to note that encryption is an area regulators are concerned about protecting. The handling of personal information and privacy laws and concerns vary from country to country, thus making this an important consideration for a company when evaluating which metaverse platform it chooses to use.
No additional hardware needed
In order to optimize this training experience for all users, we used a metaverse platform that does not require the use of a VR headset. This allowed our team to keep costs down in addition to reducing unnecessary complexities of using advanced hardware for users. Also, when thinking of potential future applications where the metaverse might be used to engage external HCPs, the authors recognized potential compliance risks associated with providing a VR headset to HCPs. This could be perceived as a transfer of value, which could raise HCP spend reporting obligations and other compliance concerns. By avoiding the use of a VR headset, certain compliance issues can be mitigated or avoided, making implementation much more simple.
Although VR headsets can provide a fully immersive metaverse experience, it also comes with potential drawbacks that can make even the most innovative metaverse initiatives a hindrance to users. A few of these issues include:
- The 3D effects from VR headsets can be disorienting and could promote motion sickness and/or headache.
- Software compatibility issues may exist with corporate firewalls.
- Poor battery life and consistent need to keep VR headset software updated.
- Too many devices for MSLs to carry in the field in addition to their smartphone, laptop, and tablet.
The decision to use this metaverse was also based on its user-friendly interface. With minimal instruction, the entire MSL team was able to log in to the metaverse in under 2 minutes using a web link provided by their manager. Once inside the metaverse, the MSLs were able to roam around freely using their keyboard arrow keys and mouse (refer to Figure 2).
Figure 2. An immersive MSL metaverse experience without using VR headsets.
Just prior to entering the metaverse, the MSL team was briefed on the layout of their various workshop stations. The managers provided the MSL team a simplified map of the metaverse environment. With this map in hand, the MSL team was able to instantly navigate to their respective workshop stations upon login (refer to Figure 3).
Figure 3. Map of the metaverse MSL training workshop with peer-to-peer training assignments.
Simultaneous learning that helped increase engagement & productivity
The benefit of using metaverse for MSL training is that multiple learning objectives can occur simultaneously, similar to a live workshop or virtual workshop with break-outs where individuals are able to focus on small group learning activities in parallel. Using the metaverse also created a feeling of spatial orientation and movement that naturally promoted greater interaction among the users.
In our training session, we set up two tables that served as workshop stations. These stations were moderated by five recently field-deployed MSLs who helped train their peers on either the content of an approved proactive medical slide deck resource or the Q&A portion of their upcoming field certification. Each table in this set-up utilized spatial audio technology which allowed MSLs who joined the table to have conversations among themselves and the table moderator without being disrupted with cross-traffic noise. Anyone passing by outside the specific table would not be able to hear the conversation from the group unless they joined (refer to Figure 4). This helped add a level of interactivity and engagement while simulating a live workshop environment without added distractions.
Figure 4. One of two workshop tables with didactic learnings moderated by recently certified, field deployed MSLs.
In addition to the two workshop tables, we had two MSL managers facilitating additional learning opportunities within the same training session. One manager was assigned to the main stage where he hosted learning games and conducted surveys on a large cinema-size screen (refer to Figure 5). The second manager was assigned to the upper deck where he would host mock physician engagements with MSLs (refer to Figure 6). The mock engagement allowed a manager to observe and listen to their new MSL and provide meaningful feedback and coaching to drive enhanced performance. Both managers were able to communicate with each other throughout the session using a private chat box feature. This was especially helpful in triaging participant requests for additional information or clarity on a relevant training topic. The managers also found the feature useful in providing team members clarity on training topics that required additional information or context to drive enriched learning.
Figure 5. Manager hosting learning games and surveys on the auditorium big screen.
Figure 6. Mock physician engagements with 2 MSLs occurring on the upper deck.
Each MSL was asked to visit the workshop station of their choice. This learning autonomy was well received by the MSL team. This approach allowed every MSL to customize their individual learning journey, prior to their upcoming field certification. It also created a valuable networking opportunity for MSLs to meet their team members from other parts of the country that they would not have otherwise had the opportunity to meet due to geographical constraints.
Cost-effective and efficient
This metaverse platform was cost-effective when compared to over a dozen competitor platforms we evaluated. The cost benefit can be attributed to the lack of cutting-edge features found in other social or gaming-focused metaverse platforms, such as high-definition renderings. The lack of advanced features did not appear to be a limitation because this metaverse had all the basic features and the needed functionality that ensured an immersive, engaging, and simultaneous learning experience for our MSL team.
The entire training session was embraced by the majority of the MSL team. Despite the use of several multi-media applications, multiple audio-visual feeds, and autonomous navigation by the participants, this metaverse provided a beneficial learning experience where complex scientific data and topics could be shared and their application evaluated before formal certification occurred. The entire experience was generally seen as operationally seamless and noted to have optimized the time and resources spent for peer-to-peer training. At the end of the workshop, the MSLs were asked to participate in a voluntary survey to assess their experience in the metaverse. Below is a summary of the survey questions we asked. A total of 12 respondents contributed to the survey.
The majority of MSLs shared a positive sentiment to their training workshop in the metaverse and found this method helpful in reinforcing their key learnings. As a companion article to this publication, one of the field MSLs who participated in this metaverse pilot, Marie Latsa, Pharm.D., shares her unique MSL experience. Her article, titled “A field medical science liaison’s (MSL) perspective of tech-enablement using the metaverse” can be found in the 2023 Summer issue of the Journal of the Medical Science Liaison Society.
Each of the remaining 9 MSLs went on to successfully pass and certify as field ready during their exams one week later. This outcome proved that this method of learning was at least as effective as conventional methodologies even under a compressed timeframe to deliver and certify MSLs for field deployment.
Scaling metaverse technology for enhanced learning and training outcomes for a field MSL team proved to be feasible using a metaverse platform we deemed user-friendly, cost-effective, and equipped with certain capabilities that made live engagement more interactive than traditional virtual meetings. This approach did not require any changes to traditional and current didactic approaches. Also, the current training content did not need to be modified. The metaverse essentially served as an innovative medium to deliver a more effective and engaging learning experience for our new MSL team.
It is important to ensure organizational leadership and compliance partners are involved in the decision to use metaverse technology in order to identify any potential areas of concern and address them early on in the process. This partnership is essential considering how rapidly metaverse technology is changing. Partnering in this way will also help to ensure compliance with the respective company policies, procedures, and relevant laws which can vary from country to country.
As metaverse technology continues to evolve it will be important to continue building upon a scaled functional approach that allows MSL managers to get more comfortable using the technology while finding other novel ways to leverage its functionality to enhance current best practices. We continue to explore and apply our understanding of metaverse technology to one day achieve a scale that allows for compliant, cost-effective, and engaging external customer meetings. Our exploratory journey into the metaverse continues with future plans to assess the integration of artificial intelligence as well as other Web 3.0 components including, but not limited to, digital wallets, and decentralized credentials. We hope our pioneering efforts in this field will provide a future framework within the Medical Affairs industry that enhances the way we work together both internally and with external customers.
Syneos Health® (Nasdaq:SYNH) is a leading fully integrated biopharmaceutical solutions organization built to accelerate customer success. We translate unique clinical, medical affairs and commercial insights into outcomes to address modern market realities. Together we share insights, use the latest technologies and apply advanced business practices to speed our customers’ delivery of important therapies to patients. We support a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture.
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.
Cherie Hyder, PharmD
Cherie Hyder is Syndicated National MSL Director at Syneos Health. In her previous job at Biohaven Pharmaceuticals, she supported a virtual launch of Nurtec ODT for acute migraine. She has been involved in drug development for more than 30 years, working at FDA in CDER and pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer, Lilly, Novartis, Solvay, and Avanir, among others. At the University of Missouri, she received a Doctor of Pharmacy degree with the intention to devote her career to pharmaceutical research. She has multiple adjunct faculty appointments and enjoys teaching opportunities.
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!