The COVID19 pandemic has impacted the MSL role and how they interact with KOLs. However, even in this dire situation, 53% of KOLs still consider face-to-face engagement with MSLs very important. Therefore, it is vital to effectively promote this engagement in an adapted way. The MSLs and the KOLs have to adapt to this novel situation, where face-to-face meetings are not always possible due to COVID19-related restrictions. Thus, this article aims to identify the major challenges faced by the MSL community during the COVID19 pandemic and provide some pieces of advice to increase the engagement with KOLs in the post-pandemic era.
Building virtual relationships during the pandemic, a major challenge for the MSL community
The COVID19-related restrictions have impacted the strategies and the communication channels classically used by MSLs to contact their KOLs. Consequently, several alternatives have emerged as possible solutions to the inability of meeting in person. For instance, MSL teams reported email 2-way engagement to be more effective than phone calls, yet this engagement strategy is far from perfect. Email engagement oscillates from medium to low due to its dependence on several unpredictable factors such as email saturation or lack of accessibility, which also increases the delay in the response.
An online survey from 975 MSLs has confirmed that building new relationships with KOLs is the major challenge MSLs faced during the COVID19 pandemic (Primary challenge facing MSLs during the COVID19 pandemic survey, 2021). As it can be seen in Figure 1, building new relationships with KOLs emerged as the primary challenge during the COVID19 pandemic. Delivering value in virtual environments has also proven to be a major challenge. Despite these challenges, online applications such as Zoom, MS teams, Webex, among others have been proved to be key platforms, and are here to stay.
Figure 1. Challenges MSLs faced during the COVID19 pandemic (Primary challenge facing MSLs during the COVID19 pandemic survey, 2021).
As it can be seen in Figure 2, the data from the online survey revealed that, on average, 42% of MSLs spent 1-3h in a typical week on virtual engagements, which highlights the importance of this channel during the pandemic.
Figure 2. Hours spent on virtual engagements by MSLs, Sr. MSLs, and Medical Advisors (or equivalent). Global data were pooled from 509 responses (Primary challenge facing MSLs during the COVID19 pandemic survey, 2021).
Tips and tricks to improve KOL virtual engagement
The screening of MSL experiences suggests various strategies to increase KOL virtual engagement effectiveness, such as: to include novel clinical or preclinical data in emails; to inform about new lines of research, products, or indications; to ask availability for a face-to-face meeting, and to personalize the email to meet the specific needs of the contacted KOL. The current COVID19-related restrictions that are being applied in the covered territory of the MSL and the possibility to combine face-to-face and virtual meetings will define the engagement strategy of the MSLs.
Especially in the post-pandemic scenario, the KOL has to go first. Hence, MSLs should know about the clinical practice and work experience of the contacted KOL, be concrete and right to the point, answer their questions and meet their needs during the engagement. There are other tips that may account for a successful engagement: being aware of which content KOLs share on their social media to know their interests and having personal notes about all the points that you want to talk about to define a clear objective for each concrete meeting. All these tips will help the MSL community to better identify the specific needs of their KOLs and thus, to personalize the interaction. In all, MSLs need to personalize the engagement, and to be brief, the focus of the engagement has to be the KOL, not the MSL metrics themselves.
A concept that emerges as an important advantage to stand up in virtual meetings is the personal digital brand of the MSL. Finding a way of being memorable in a digital environment is going to be essential to really make a difference.
Every ending is always a new beginning
The MSL role is changing. The COVID19 pandemic brought not only to MSLs but to the worldwide society, a paradigm shift in the way of living and working. Changes usually carry restlessness, but also new opportunities, especially for the MSL community given that MSLs are experts handling changes and unexpected events to find insights that could drive changes for potential improvements.
Healthcare companies and hospitals are now more prepared than ever in the use of digital resources. Exploiting the virtues of face-to-face and virtual interactions may constitute a new beginning for the MSL role. A hybrid model allows for better optimization of time. It also allows for more continuous KOL contact and support on issues that can be effectively addressed virtually. A hybrid engagement model also brings challenges since it requires training in skills that may have not been that relevant in the classic model. Digital skills, learning agility, resilience, adaptability, emotional intelligence, influencing capacity among other skills are essential in this new scenario.
Furthermore, training these skills makes it easier to understand and implement innovative tools, novel technologies, and resources, which is now occurring in the healthcare sector. This is the case of Artificial Intelligence for instance, which offers promising prospects to healthcare professionals and the MSL community. These digital resources will help MSLs to better analyze, correlate and manage engagement data and insights, allowing them to anticipate KOL needs. This virtual scenario will also facilitate medical education and attendance of healthcare professionals and MSLs to worldwide events without limitations.
Yes, the COVID19 pandemic has brought many difficulties, but also new opportunities. The pharmaceutical industry should consider this as a great chance to move forward to adapt to the digital era. MSLs now have more tools than ever to rethink and renovate engagements, developing a hybrid engagement model that will combine the virtues of face-to-face and virtual meetings.
Antonio Martínez-García, PhD
Antonio holds a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences and has over 6 years of experience as a preclinical researcher in the areas of, human genetics, neurobiology, immunology, and tissue regeneration. He is currently enrolled in an MS in Clinical trials and Medical Affairs what has given him the opportunity to join the medical oncology department of the Solid Tumors division at Novartis Pharmaceuticals, working on Breast Cancer, Thoracic Cancers, and Melanoma, from where he is actively working to break into his first medical affairs role. He is a science passionate with a special interest in clinical research, science communication, and new technologies as Artificial Intelligence; committed with the aim of making a positive impact on patients’ well-being and quality of life. With a strong engage in facing new challenges, Antonio stands out for his proactivity and his will of continuous learning and growing in his career.
Francisco Díaz-Sáez, PhD
Francisco holds a PhD in Biomedical Sciences and has over 5 years of experience in leading preclinical research, focusing his research on the interplay between inflammation and metabolic pathologies. He published various scientific articles in Q1 journals such as the EMBO journal during his career as a researcher. Currently, he is enrolled in a Master’s degree in clinical trials monitoring and medical affairs and he joined a scientific consultancy as a scientific advisor, where he provides compliance and medical affairs advice to different pharmaceutical companies. He is eager to apply all the acquired scientific knowledge in an innovative and efficient way to have a positive impact on the lives of patients.
Victor Sastre, M.Sc, MSL-BC
Victor has more than 20 years of experience in the pharmaceutical & biotech industry, Medical Affairs, and R&D. Professor in several Masters and Pharma MBA Coordinator. Passionate and author of various publications related to the MSL position. He is currently a Senior MSL in Amgen, with responsibility in Bone Metabolism, Neuroscience, Inflammation, and Biosimilars. Victor has previous experience at Parke-Davis and Pfizer. In 2018, he received the MSL Award of the Year-Outside USA from the MSL Society. Victor is also a Board-Certified Medical Science Liaison (MSL-BC®).
Beatriz Cuéllar, MSc
Beatriz Cuéllar, MSc is Field Medical Excellence Manager at Takeda. She has a Pharmacy degree and a master’s degree in Pharmaceutical and Clinical Research. For the last 10 years, Beatriz has held different roles at key pharmaceutical companies, always within medical affairs. She started in research and then moved to MSL positions, which allowed her to fully understand its different particularities and become really passionate about the role. At present Beatriz is responsible for the planning, execution, and alignment of the in-field strategy, processes, and systems for MSL teams. She loves supporting and inspiring MSLs to enhance their capabilities and skills so that they become high-performing and best-in-class teams.
Martina Riosalido, MSc
Martina has more than 13 years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical & Biotech industry, in Training, Marketing, and Medical Affairs departments, overseeing both national and international projects for subsidiaries and headquarters within a multicultural work environment. She is currently an MSL with Gilead, focusing on COVID-19 ant-viral drugs. In 2019, she received the MSL of the Year-Outside USA from the MSL Society.
Cristina García García, MSc
Cristina has more than 10 years of experience in the Pharmaceutical & Biotech Industry. She is currently an MSL Manager at Persan Farma, specializing in Clinical Nutrition, especially focused on therapeutic areas as Endocrinology, Oncology, Surgery, and Gerontology. She is developing her doctoral thesis at the Department of Biomedicine, Translational Research, and New Technologies at Malaga University.
In 2019, she received the MSL Manager Award of the Year (Outside USA) from the MSL Society. She is also a member of the Advisory Committee in the Spanish Chapter of the Medical Science Liaison Society.
Javier Mateo is an MSL Lead with more than 3 years’ experience Career and life achievements to date are centered on making a difference, creative problem solving, and working in high-energy teams with honesty and integrity. Always close to innovations and new discoveries, very much patient-focused with medical and business vision and in a continuous learning environment. Accountable for the overall performance of the MSL team and the ongoing capability development by effectively leading, coaching, and managing.