COVID-19 and Medical Affairs

March 27, 2020

“Never allow a serious crisis go to waste.” So said former Mayor of Chicago and White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, in response to the global financial crisis of 2007/2008. After some controversy, Emanuel clarified his point: “It’s an opportunity to do things that you had never considered, or that you didn’t think were possible.”

Dr. Bob Fell, Field Medical Affairs, Sanofi, echoed Emanuel’s words in yesterday’s Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs (ACMA) webinar, Medical Affairs Adapts to the COVID-19 Crisis. “How do medical science liaisons (MSLs) and medical affairs professionals leverage the current situation?” he asked. “Things have changed overnight in the field.” For Fell, it’s a time to “go easy” on the customers and the thought leaders: “Put yourselves in your customers’ shoes and think about what they need right now. It probably isn’t a presentation,” he said. Instead, the pandemic offers an opportunity for medical affairs professionals to focus on their own learning and development. With this “gift of time,” they can be taking continuing education courses; getting board certification; or boosting their technology skills.

It certainly seems a good time for the latter. One thing the COVID crisis has advanced is the use of video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Dr. Jill Massey, Senior Vice President, Medical Affairs at Melinta Therapeutics, told the webinar audience that “we’re using all the communication tactics that we’ve used in the past, but we’re using them through new media.” Medical affairs leaders need to become very familiar with these new digital tools, if they aren’t already. It’s a time to lead remotely, and build up trust via these new interfaces, said Massey. The pandemic is “affecting our day-to-day interactions, and certainly our ability to present information at congresses.” It is forcing medical affairs people to do their jobs differently. And when the pandemic is over, she observed, the jobs will be forever changed. Massey pointed to a recent Best Practices survey showing that companies expect to transfer 40% of their engagements to digital even after the pandemic.

So this is potentially a good time for professional development. Ahead of that, though, medical affairs people should focus on their own emotional wellbeing. “It’s not just viruses that are contagious,” said Fell, “emotions are too.” Borrowing a directive from air crew training, both Fell and Massey urged that the first important thing to do is to “put on your own mask before helping others.”

The ACMA webinar can be accessed here.

Click here for ACMA’s COVID-19 resource page.