MSL Performance Metrics have been a dilemma for the last decade or so. Many studies have been conducted to rethink the evaluation of the Medical Science Liaison function, I’ve personally conducted one on “The relation between the tracking/reporting system for MSLs in medical affairs departments in pharmaceutical companies located within the MENA region and its impact on the MSL productivity” available at: https://dx.doi.org/10.18535/jmscr/v8i7.47
The core issue with research is that it studies performance evaluation in a superficial manner that produces very similar results year after year, a lack of discovery that leaves MSL management in pharmaceutical companies without an algorithm to improve their performance evaluation of their team members.
Taking a step back to un-reveal the course of the problem, MSLs have been part of the industry for nearly 40 years. Over this period, the function has held various responsibilities depending on companies’ needs, objectives, and understanding of the function. Originally formed to interact with high-level physicians, the position has evolved into a medical education role with a much wider audience, from third-party payers to Primary Care Providers and Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs).
The MSL function is indeed a dynamic one in nature, it evolves with a product, from early phases to maturity. The MSL responsibilities may remain constant throughout, yet one or more of these responsibilities becomes the highlight depending upon where a product is in its lifecycle.
Hence in light of changing legislation globally and changing market dynamics regionally, MSLs have transformed the way they function lately. Additionally, though pharmaceutical companies continuously fine-tune their medical affairs’ and MSL teams’ functions, they still struggle to identify qualitative and quantifiable values for the MSL role.
In recent years, two of the largest impacts to MSL functions have been digitalization and the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of the COVID-19 impact on global business, little downsizing has been reported and most regional executives have stated they see stabilization or even growth of their medical affairs teams and especially MSLs. The COVID-19 pandemic is significantly changing the healthcare landscape, shifting face-to-face interactions with HCPs to virtual meetings and limited introductory meetings with new HCPs. This has made it more challenging for MSL teams to generate insights or expand reach to new KOLs.
One of the key concerns of the digital age is the proliferation of data. MSLs need to intelligently use this information in order to gain an edge over their competition, improve scientific and operational performance, or predict healthcare outcomes. But, most struggle with where to begin.
During digitalization, Some KOLs have now evolved into being “DOLs” or Digital Opinion Leaders” who influence the healthcare systems through social media. In my personal classification, these individuals provide ideas and their behavior is a role model for others in the healthcare field and their number is exponentially increasing. Not only are their numbers increasing, but their impact is too. Their impact has many measures, yet personally, the most important three aspects of a “DOL” worth following is: Influence (number of followers), resonance (frequency of sharing) & relevance of content. KOLs & DOLs currently co-exist and are operating in extremely different spheres, yet I personally think this will not continue on for long before an MSLs traditional list is composed mainly of DOLs with minimal or even no “KOL” presence with the definition we’ve known for years.
Because there is an increasing need for education and high-quality information, physicians have become digital consumers in their everyday lives, they are also changing the way they consume medical information in their professional lives and embracing the convenience of digital channels that provide content on-demand – Pharma’s pursuit of digital transformation right now is at the cusp of the transition from “me too” digital strategies to more specialized strategies.
On a separate note then, building thought-leader relationships is a continuous process that depends heavily on respect, trust, and meaningful communication between MSLs and thought leaders which has been a cornerstone MSL function for years. To make this effective, it’s important to keep a watching eye on the number of thought leader relationships and the balance between engaged thought leaders, and the discovery of new thought leaders. The number of thought leader relationships should be ideally maintained on an average that will enable efficient development of relationships and impactful interactions which in my personal opinion should be in an average of 50 to 60 KOLs per MSL.
Businesses today are generally under pressure to “do more with less” and yet still provide meaningful information to customers, partners, and internal operations. This applies on the MSL level as well and the “performance frontier” MSL today should learn how to generate insights through digitally-based interactions without directly engaging HCPs ranging from attending “live” virtually-broadcast panel sessions to following influential KOLs on social media platforms like Twitter etc. Medical Affairs – and MSLs specifically – should find solutions that provide increased flexibility and consistency, improved customer engagement, providing time and money savings. My personal opinion is that the aspiration is an MSL who builds influence and delivers impact.
A scientific optimization is a tool for winning. It is the process of improving the organization’s scientific efforts in order to maximize the desired business results. Scientific optimization is performed on individual medical tactics employed, as well as optimizing the suitable tactics to the medical affairs strategy as a whole.
It’s now evident why evaluating a function that was created 40 years ago and evolves nearly every 5 – 10 years passing through dynamics of regulations, market changes, product lifecycle as well as customer change in itself ending with impacts of digitalization and a pandemic is evidently a tough task and annual performance reviews for MSLs are not usually the best times of year for a medical affairs department.
Performance reviews’ common pitfalls remain a nightmare year after year. Pharmaceutical companies continue to use similar performance measures without shifting the importance of these measures based on what needs to be done at certain points in time. For starters, choosing the right timing, situation, and place for a discussion is important to avoid the evaluator’s very nature and limit awkward situations, which is in line with promoting honest and constructive feedback. To have an optimum performance review with your subordinate MSL, avoid the individualistic approach and try to base reviews on role profiles and needed actions from your MSL. Look into the future by taking a step further than just reviewing past behavior and stating CAPAs into a more holistic approach of a plan for consistent improvement and fruitfulness.
Reviewing Performance Reviews is essential nowadays in an ever-changing landscape for MSLs. Over the course of a product’s lifecycle, we see three or four distinct stages where an MSL’s activities will shift—therefore requiring different sets of evaluation.
So to have a “living” performance evaluation criteria, its easiest to base your MSL performance on evaluating what they should do in the “pre-launch” phase of the product lifecycle which could include (but not limited to): Number of new KOL relationships, advisory board activities, unsolicited KOL feedback, and frequency of KOL visits in the forefront with less focus on the quality of KOL relationship, visit durations, numbers of speeches delivered by KOLs or number of IITs submitted.
Evaluating a “post-launch” MSL will be based on a different set of criteria which could include (but not limited to): Quality of KOL relationship, numbers of speeches delivered by KOLs, number of KOL relationships maintained & frequency of contact with KOLs in the forefront with less focus on advisory board activities, number of new KOL relationships, unsolicited KOL feedback or number of presentations by the MSL.
A “Consensus” Roadmap for MSL Performance Reviews is integral to ensure optimum and compliant business conduct. Although it is normally region, company, and product-specific yet, the two most important performance criteria to account for are: quality of KOL relationships and frequency of on-site visits.
In the end, MSL Performance Metrics which are tailored and dynamic in nature is the optimum tool for valuing this priceless role of medical education through the market and future ambiguity, across different stages of a product’s lifecycle and in the face of turbulence caused by global issues like pandemics and digitalization.
Currently a Therapy Area Medical Manager at Amgen, I previously spent 10 years at Novartis in different roles of varying responsibilities since 2009. I worked as an MSL for Bone & Pain, Respiratory & Transplantation during the period of 2014 till 2016 which added a lot to my perspectives of being patient-centric in business. My career to date has provided me with invaluable knowledge in some key areas, namely Bone & Pain, Respiratory, Cardio-Metabolic, Nephrology, Transplantation & Biosimilars in Egypt, Iran & Sudan. I am also an accomplished individual with a strong desire to succeed and lead others to success. Indeed through my past experiences, I have had the distinction of being an individual who is energetic, hardworking, and efficient.
On a more personal level, I am open to any situation that is challenging and which tests my abilities, as well as among my work colleagues I have a reputation as being a fast learner, who is dependable and organized.