As the world witnessed a global change with the Covid-19 pandemic, Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) saw their role evolve beyond its more traditional definition and scope. When countries went into complete lockdown and pharmaceutical industries needed to find new ways to keep interacting and engaging with their customers, MSLs, as the experts in everything science and as field-based individuals with strong relationships with Health Care Professionals (HCPs), had the opportunity to stretch and grow beyond their past role.
At the beginning of the confinement, HCPs were reluctant to perform any kind of remote interaction with pharmaceutical representatives, either sales, marketing, or medical. They were overwhelmed with abundant scientific data on Covid-19 and with their patient’s worries, not to forget their own concerns and those of their families. The pharmaceutical industry, as a whole, had to find alternative ways, mainly digital and highly scientific, to keep the level of engagement high with their customers and show them that they are a health partner supporting them in the crisis.
Speaking of my personal experience, I found myself learning and gaining expertise beyond my usual ones. One of the most successful tools driving engagement was a weekly e-newsletter, developed and designed along with my marketing counterpart, and which successfully mixed up-to-date information about COVID-19 and priority medical messages.
To make this a success, my role as an MSL had to evolve. Outside the obvious digital skills gained, I had to read and become an expert in everything related to Covid-19 and the vaccination against it. Not only did this allow me to keep a high level of scientific discussion with my Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), it also allowed me to incorporate valuable medical information into the content sent to them via the e-newsletter. This was a major attracting point to HCPs who wanted to learn more about Covid-19 in an organized and focused manner and incited them to open our e-newsletter and have a nice read.
Also, I found myself becoming not only a scientific content developer but also a creative designer as we had to make the e-newsletter look appealing and worth reading. When we picked up the pace for the e-newsletter, we started using it as a tool to engage directly with KOLs and add mini-videos (3-4 minutes length) into some of the issues, where a KOL would be discussing one scientific topic of relevance. Here, I had to upskill my scriptwriting, creativity, and video-making knowledge. It was also a very nice way to learn with our KOLs who found this particularly interesting.
Finally, I also gained insights on how to follow up on digital channels such as the e-newsletter and set appropriate Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Following the trend, allowed us to refine our scientific content but also its format to what was most appealing to HCPs to increase the open rates and click-through rates (for example, the video format was always a big hit, which pushed us to include more mini-videos into our issues). Keeping up with what is interesting HCPs and pushing them to open our e-newsletter made us find better ways of delivering our priority messages to them.
On another side, having to switch promptly from regular face-to-face group meetings to webinars, I had to learn quickly how to utilize the digital platforms (setting up the webinars, sending invitations, etc.) but also how to make the best out of them (creating polls and post-webinar surveys, sending automatic reminders and follow-up emails, etc.).
All of this was done in strong cross-functional teamwork and internal collaboration, which led me to learn a lot from my colleagues in marketing, multi-channel engagement, digital, business excellence, compliance, etc.
In summary, from an expert in diabetes, I also became an expert in Covid-19 and vaccinations. From a customer-facing employee, I became a digital expert with scientific content development, creative design, video-making, digital measurement, and webinar design skills. From a medical department person, I became someone with a more holistic view of the pharmaceutical business and gained insights into how other departments function.
With all these great new skills acquired, I found my MSL role evolved to new heights. This was appreciated both internally and externally and the impact of the medical department’s operations became even more valuable. This example of evolved MSL role shows us MSLs can be successful in a hybrid of face-to-face and digital interactions model and bring additional value to the business, despite the crises. Looking ahead, the MSL role should keep on evolving to adapt to the new challenges and leverage new opportunities to engage more in a scientific multi-channel engagement model.
Diane Mourad, PharmD, MSc
Diane Mourad is currently a Medical Science Liaison for Diabetes in Sanofi Lebanon. She has around 4 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry, in Clinical Operations, Regulatory, Marketing, Sales, and Medical Affairs departments. Diane has a PharmD and a Master’s in Research with a focus on Pharmacology. She has published several papers on matters of migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, and diabetes. On a more personal note, Diane recently self-published her first book on Amazon France: “Une Vie après la Mort”, Diane MN. With this, she hopes she can take her hobby and passion to the next level.