The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a substantial impact on the activities of Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) including access to Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and how MSLs engage with them. The Medical Science Liaison Society (MSL Society) has conducted numerous surveys throughout 2020 to understand this impact and what the activities of MSLs have been during the pandemic1. In April 2020, the MSL Society partnered with H1 to design and conduct a first of its kind survey to understand how KOLs (across the USA) prefer to engage with MSLs during the pandemic2.
As the pandemic continued it was increasingly important to not only understand the impact of the pandemic on MSL/KOL engagements but also equally important to understand the perceived value of MSLs from KOLs perspective. As a result, the Medical Science Liaison Society partnered again with H1 to conduct a second survey of Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) in the United States3. The purpose of this second survey was to gain a better understanding of how frequently KOLs were engaging with Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) prior to and during the Covid-19 pandemic, the perceived effectiveness of virtual scientific discussions with MSLs, and among other valuable information, what specific type information that KOLs find most valuable. The KOLs surveyed also shared their perception on whether the information presented by MSLs was fair balanced along with what qualities make an MSL stand out from others.
A KOL research firm was hired to conduct a survey with KOLs across the USA. An online survey was created and open from September 11-23, 2020 and sent to KOLs across the USA. The survey included 9 questions which were all required and only completed surveys were included in the data analysis. KOLs 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 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 perceive the value of MSLs during the pandemic. KOLs were allowed to self-identify their specialty of medicine. A total of 245 KOLs representing a wide diversity of 29 specialties*, all based in the USA, completed the survey. Of the KOLs who were represented in the survey, the 3 specialties that had the greatest representation included Cardiology 18%, Obstetrics and Gynecology 17%, and Neurology 12%. The remaining 26 specialties made up less than 10% of each speciality.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, on average, how many in-person MSL visits did you have per month?
For comparison and to understand how the pandemic has impacted the activities of MSLs and specifically how frequently KOLs engage with MSLs, it is important to understand the frequency of in-person KOL/MSL engagement prior to the pandemic. This study found that prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, 63% of KOLs averaged 1-3 in-person MSL visits per month.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, on average, how many virtual MSL visits do you have per month?
Although there were some initial concerns about the decrease and frequency of KOL/MSL engagements during the pandemic, the survey revealed that 50% KOLs still averaged 1-3 MSL visits (virtual) per month. This represents only a 13% decrease when compared to in-person engagements prior to the pandemic. Although 42% of KOLs revealed they had 0 virtual MSL visits per month (on average), the remaining 58% of KOLs continued to engage with MSLs during the pandemic. This suggests KOLs continue to value engaging with MSLs. It’s important to note that these virtual visits were live engagements and do not include email exchanges or telephone calls.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, how would you rate the effectiveness of the typical virtual scientific discussion with MSLs?
Another concern regarding KOL/MSL engagements during the pandemic, has been MSL effectiveness in a virtual environment. The study found that 78% of KOLs rated the effectiveness of the typical virtual scientific discussion with MSLs as “Somewhat effective” (56%) or “Very effective” (22%). This is important because it suggests that even in a virtual environment, MSLs continue to effectively add value to KOLs.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, have you viewed the information shared by MSLs during virtual scientific discussions to be “fair balanced”?
The two guiding principles for MSL engagement with KOLs according to the MSL Activity Guidelines are that MSLs should be “primarily focused on: 1) fostering ethical relationships with key opinion leaders and 2) facilitating the exchange of valid, unbiased, fair, and balanced scientific information within the context of a medical product or device and the therapeutic area that the MSL supports”4. These principles are often mentioned when discussing how an MSL should engage with KOLs, but prior to this survey, there has been little data on how KOLs perceive the information shared by MSLs during virtual scientific discussions. This survey found that 86% of KOLs viewed the information shared by MSLs during virtual scientific discussions as “fair balanced” during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is important because it supports what should be the goal of all MSLs: to be a credible medical resource to the KOLs they engage with.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, how often would you say that MSLs have acted in your best interest, or your patients’ best interest?
Another principle that is often mentioned when discussing how MSLs should engage with KOLs is that MSLs should act in the KOLs’ or their patients’ best interest. Importantly, 70% of KOLs reported that MSLs “Always” or “Often” have acted in their or their patients’ best interest during the pandemic. The data suggests that KOLs do perceive that the goal of MSLs is to foster ethical relationships with them.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, in general, how satisfied have you been with the interactions that you have had with MSLs?
One of the important goals of the survey was to understand and establish how satisfied KOLs have been with the interactions they have had with MSLs during the pandemic. This is important because a decrease in satisfaction could lead to reduced access to KOLs. The KOL/MSL satisfaction interaction question in this survey utilized a seven point Likert scale, which is considered to be the most accurate type of Likert scale. Interestingly, 65% of KOLs indicated that they were “Extremely” (i.e. 7 out of 7) or “Moderately” (i.e. 6 out of 7) satisfied with the interactions they have had with MSLs during the pandemic, which represent the two best possible answer choices for this question. At first glance, it may be concerning that only 50% of KOLs indicated they were “Moderately Satisfied” with the interactions they have had with MSLs. However, it’s important to consider that this means KOLs rated their satisfaction with MSLs as a six out of seven which represent 85% satisfaction.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, what specific information shared by MSLs do you find most valuable?
MSLs are often challenged with determining what information or material will add the value to a KOL. Of course this is dependent on numerous variables including the specific needs of a KOL, what type of practice the KOL has and the patients they treat, where a product is at in its lifecycle, the technology and competitive landscape, among others. Part of the challenge in adding value to a KOL relationship is understanding what KOLs value. This study found that 39% of KOLs indicated that “Scientific Updates on New Drugs” was the most valuable information shared by MSLs, followed by “Clinical Trial” data (24% of KOLs). Clearly, all information shared by MSLs should address the needs and interests of each individual KOL in order to strengthen and create a value added relationship, but knowing that as a group these KOLs found that scientific updates were more important than, for example, speaking opportunities, allows MSLs to focus on one of the primary goals of the MSL profession and what MSLs do best: facilitating the exchange of valid, unbiased, fair, and balanced scientific information.
What makes a really good MSL stand out from other MSLs?
Because a KOL may have MSLs from multiple companies competing for their time, an important result of this survey was gaining an understanding of what makes a really good MSL stand out from other MSLs during the pandemic. KOLs in this survey revealed that being “Honest and Unbiased” (25%) followed by “Depth of knowledge” (20%) were the two most important qualities for an MSL. Clearly, having a thorough knowledge of the disease state and the product an MSL supports is essential, and being honest and unbiased is valued even more by KOLs. This underscores what the goal should be for all MSLs, which is to always foster ethical relationships with key opinion leaders.
Although this survey built on the insights gained from the first survey conducted with KOLs in April of 2020, there were numerous unique revelations discovered in this important follow-up survey. The results of this second survey and the insights gained from the information, may help MSLs be more effective in fostering ethical relationships with key opinion leaders during the current pandemic. MSL leaders may also be able to use the data to manage their expectations of what KOLs want from MSLs during the pandemic which may assist in creating realistic goals for KOL engagement. Doing so will contribute to an MSL’s ability to add value to the KOLs they support.
Facilitating the exchange of valid, unbiased, fair-balanced value-added scientific information, should always be the goal of all MSLs when engaging with KOLs!
The full results of the survey have also been incorporated into an infographic that is available as a free download here.
- Various articles from the April issue, The MSL Journal.
- How KOLs prefer to engage with MSLs during the COVID-19 pandemic Report, 2020 MSL Society. https://www.themsls.org/covid-19-kol-engagement-survey/
- KOL interactions with MSLs during the COVID-19 pandemic report, 2020 MSL Society. https://www.themsls.org/covid-19-kol-engagement-follow-up-survey/
- MSL Activity Guidelines, 2018 MSL Society. https://www.themsls.org/msl-guidelines/
Dr. Samuel Dyer
CEO and Chairman of the Board
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 started his first company in college, Research Connection, 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. Ariel then helped co-founded, H1. Ariel Katz is currently the CEO and Co-founder of H1. H1 is a platform-based network that is dedicated to connecting healthcare professionals and companies with the aim of being the “Linkedin for healthcare.” The platform now has over 9 million HCP profiles in 16,000 institutions in 70-plus countries. Its clients, which encompass over 35 pharmaceutical companies, including seven of the top 10, use the platform to do things like find doctors to work on a clinical trial for given biotech, find hospitals where they can do their clinical and find the thought-leading healthcare professional to lead a CME session.
Maria is a member of the Business Development team at H1 in New York City. Maria studied Psychology and Spanish at Colgate University, where she also developed a significant interest in the way the healthcare ecosystem communicates across disparate channels. During her career so far, Maria has demonstrated a detailed and attentive eye for new and emerging data trends, particularly as it is related to the healthcare market. When she’s not helping out at H1, she enjoys running, reading, and staying up to date on current events and politics.