All business sectors are similarly trying to modernize and upgrade their operational systems through a process of digital transformation. Pharmaceutical companies and their medical affairs practices are no different. Data and analytics, AI, and Machine Learning have the power to truly transform the practice as we know it and lead to the creation of much-needed new drug therapies.
Life sciences companies have some unique challenges with implementing innovative technologies largely because it is a system dominated by scientific data composed mostly of text. Scientific evidence is primarily text-based, peer-reviewed information from journals and clinical trials — which makes these records less easy to translate into organized data than the more transactional ledgers of sales activities, website traffic, or customer interactions.
To date, the industry has been reactive in responding to new technologies. For example, the ongoing pandemic and the need to shift to video calls to maintain and strengthen Health Care Provider (HCP) relationships have forced the examination of the question: Why weren’t we doing this more before? Video conferencing technology existed for a long time before the pandemic, and video calls allow you to make more frequent connections with more prioritized HCPs in a portfolio.
It is time for the industry to be more proactive and thoughtful about how to continue implementing advanced technologies through the lens of how innovation intersects with the people involved and the processes they implement to achieve full impact. At the end of the day, it’s about the patients, and if we can create a better roadmap to implement advanced tools, the better results patients will experience.
Successful digital technology implementation is a matter of life and death in Healthcare
Most medical affairs personnel come from an HCP background whereas physicians, pharmacists, or nurses — we dedicated ourselves to improving patient-care on the frontlines. We know first-hand how new operations-focused technology can help or hurt the patient in an acute-care environment.
Working in medical affairs, our lens is still the same — we are still focused on improving patient care through better medicines, devices, education, and access. And we can look back on many of the lessons learned about how technology implementation and patient outcomes are tied together.
The consequences of poor system design are most acutely felt in a hospital. Every step from ER admission to drug delivery involves information capture where errors or omissions can be fatal. As such, hospitals have had to rigorously perfect and focus on their systems and ask: Is all the information being collected accurate? Do all of the correct people have access to the information? After 17 years of hospital practice, my experience in the industry cemented the importance of 3 key success factors for digital technology adoption: Process – development, improvement, and communication; People – continuous education and communication; and Leadership – accountability and transparency. We will explore how this applies to adopting technology and adapting these factors for operational excellence.
Technological advancements have impacted nearly every aspect of our daily lives. In the context of a hospital, it meant that advancements like improved diagnostic criteria, research, and imaging would come with an exponential increase in the amount of data and information involved throughout the system. Information that must be recorded accurately, accessed by those who require it, and interpreted correctly for the patient to have the best possible outcome (and to avoid serious, potentially fatal harm.)
We, therefore, knew we not only needed to be proactive and thoughtful about seeking the right technology but also in how new technologies would be implemented. In fact, implementation is the most important part. This lesson was crucial as a director in a hospital setting with a responsibility to provide top-shelf service to patients, physicians, and nurses. Setting policies, providing training, and improving processes were not optional. As data information flows increased, technological solutions were essential. The operational excellence of the department needed to be dynamic and sustainable.
Decades before EMRs were even on the horizon, I was responsible for implementing the first computer system at a particular hospital. One of the challenges we needed to solve was how to create the best system for establishing patient profiles with accurate and updated lab information to safely administer, monitor, and adjust medications. It was a massive effort and one that was hugely consequential for patient outcomes. In the beginning, we relied on updating the profiles daily with floppy discs containing new lab information. Ultimately, we realized we needed to work with the IT department to develop a real-time data feed to ensure patient information is as accurate as possible — a move that was encouraged by the hospital’s CEO.
We had to be intentional about leaning into technology to achieve the patient results and experience we wanted. And it highlighted how more than just technology procurement or development — success with technology depended on bringing people on board, strong leadership from the top, and a process by which you figure out how to continually improve a system.
What Pharma Can Learn From Frontline Healthcare on Digital Technology Implementation
I brought my frontline experience to pharma as I transitioned to MSL roles with a top 20 pharma company where I advanced in leadership positions for over a decade. One thing that is distinctly different from the two environments is that the risk level within the life sciences is lower in comparison to what occurs within the hospital.
In the hospital, poor technology process and implementation cost lives, directly. At the pharma level, it costs money, time, and impacts patients and future patients. I also came to learn that realizing the full value potential of MSLs to a pharma organization and ultimately to patients also came down to the collection of diverse data — and our ability as science professionals to parse, analyze, and act on that data.
The MSL discipline is one that marries scientific expertise with the development of collaborative partnerships with Thought Leaders (TLs) in a given therapeutic area. Through exchanges with TLs, scientific insights emerge — and for those insights to be communicated and used to their greatest advantage they must be turned into data assets that can be recorded, accessed, and mined. While many medical affairs teams have grown accustomed to dashboards, KPIs, and metrics — many are still not capturing the full scope of the activities or have implementation strategies in place to ensure that the technology and data are being used to their fullest potential.
The opportunity that exists for advanced technologies with a focus on data in medical affairs specifically, and healthcare more broadly, cannot be overstated. And as I moved through hospital and pharma roles, this became my passion. For the last decade, I have worked at creating systems that connect the data “dots” and breakdown silos to enable transparency and accountability for MA teams and better outcomes for patients in need of better medicines.
Within medical affairs, there are a multitude of potential data streams that can provide a critical ongoing view into a drug’s development. New research, HCP contacts, TLs, clinical trial data, public comments, and a variety of other inputs can be crucial to know. The need for this information to be real-time in accuracy, accessible for those who need it, and used to strategic effect is great.
Currently, the majority of MA teams are not yet realizing the full value of advanced technologies like Big Data, AI, and Machine Learning. For too many teams, important data like the examples above are still not properly monitored and mined for crucial insights. This data gap is inhibiting successful and speedy drug development, and ultimately the patients.
Time and again as I observed the inner workings of MA teams I witnessed the differences emerge from the truly excellent teams to the mediocre ones — and they are the same qualities that led to successful technology adoption in high-pressured hospital environments. Successful digital technology implementation relies on a focus of people, process, and leadership in order to save lives today in the ER, or tomorrow with a new drug.
Building on front-line and Medical Affairs experience to drive innovation back into Pharma.
Today I’m the Executive Director of rMark Bio, a life sciences AI startup, where we are developing the next generation of data and AI tools specifically tailored for medical affairs. As data streams continue to grow, teams will need to adapt current processes, employees will need new skills, and leaders will need to act with intention and foresight to make sure medical advancements can keep up with the pace of technology.
The technology we have developed has already delivered some game-changing results for some of our top pharma clients. But in addition to the technology, it’s a company that has been built around the lessons I’ve learned driving innovation in healthcare over the last several decades.
Technology that improves the operations of an organization must go hand-in-hand with a change management strategy that addresses how the organization will implement the technology. You need to bring people together to understand the purpose of the new system and work together to fine-tune the productivity engine to realize the gains. And perhaps most importantly, you need leadership from the top to create an environment that encourages strategic risks and communicates rationale.
rMarkBio is a company built with these innovation lessons in mind and a mission to bring advanced technologies and implementation wisdom to medical affairs.
Mike Abbadessa, PharmD
Mike Abbadessa is the Executive Director of Medical Affairs for rMarkBio Inc, with responsibilities for business and product development in creating AI solutions for business challenges in medical affairs. His passion for using data to solve real problems coupled with Mike’s scientific experience has enabled his latest career journey.
Mike has been a leader in health care and the pharma industry over the past 20 years. He began his career in acute care hospitals, as a pharmacist, director, and chief operating officer. He transitioned to pharma as an MSL, Director of field teams, and then Sr Director of Innovation/ Analytics for medical affairs at Takeda. After his career in pharma and before joining rMark, Mike expanded his knowledge of field medical’s success factors as a consultant for Tardis (Amplity) and various pharma companies.
He has earned a reputation as a developer of ideas, people, and organizations. Mike’s value proposition is leading and developing teams and organizations to optimize performance to the highest level through quality improvement, continuous learning, and constant innovation.
Jason Smith is the co-founder and CEO of rMark Bio, Inc. a leading AI solution provider for global medical affairs teams. With over 20 years of industry experience, Jason has held positions in early-stage companies, large multinational corporations, and venture capital studios yielding a rich professional background. In his roles such as CEO, Chief Product Officer, VP of Corporate Development, and Chief Architect he has been responsible for the management of various functional areas including strategy, product development, technology, and operations. Jason has successfully built and sold multiple early-stage companies and services firms to large global organizations.