Injecting Traditional Scientific Exchange with New Life

October 13, 2020

Female medical affairs leaders speak out with unique perspectives on how MSLs can provide greater value to opinion leaders.

In a recent survey by the Medical Science Liaison Society (MSLS), 62% of MSLs reported key opinion leaders (KOLs) are becoming less accessible – pandemic aside. Yet when given the opportunity, MSLs interact with physicians on average for 45 minutes versus the three minutes that sales reps are allotted. Top healthcare professionals are willing to spend this significant chunk of time with MSLs – even as more than 50% of all HCPs refuse to talk to sales reps at all – because the engagement brings value.

Unfortunately, access is shrinking as expert physicians face more restrictions from their healthcare organization administrator and limited time due to growing patient demands. MSLs who continue traditional engagement strategies and limit their discussions strictly to the science behind their products without addressing other real-world issues, such as health economics, will struggle to get in the door or get invited back. Further, the pool of experts across many therapeutic areas – especially rarer diseases – is small, demanding MSLs demonstrate real value to stand out from their peers and optimize access.

The role of medical affairs must evolve, not just to counter the current in-person limitations of COVID-19, but to establish trusted, long-term relationships with KOLs by providing them with information that makes it easier for them to help their patients. These days, medical care is not just about drug safety and efficacy. The complexity of new therapies combined with the complications of the healthcare landscape demand MSLs expand their conversations beyond the science to highlight the value of a product and provide compelling reasons why patients should switch to a new therapy.

In addition, MSLs – 80% of whom are PhDs – could benefit from learning new communications techniques to enhance engagement. As science continues to advance, having someone who is a scientific expert and also an expert in communicating that science will become even more important. Due to the speed of information and an ever-expanding audience, MSLs need to become more sophisticated in their understanding of the entire healthcare landscape and more adept in the use of technology to communicate customized information to a wide variety of stakeholders.

MSLs understand the data-rich product information they need to offer KOLs, but now they need to add more emotional subtext, personalize those conversations, and incorporate economics information so physicians can, in turn, relay that to their patients who are often left struggling with payers and prior authorizations for new medicines. Both doctors and their patients need reasons to jump through hoops – and MSLs are the bridge between the pharmaceutical company and the medical community who can supply these reasons.

Female leaders in medical affairs roles across the industry offer a unique perspective and tips on how MSLs can deliver greater value for KOLs and medical experts.

Combining storytelling techniques and data

Humans are evolutionary hardwired for story, and medical teams have an opportunity to evolve the scientific exchange through storytelling – a critical but mostly unpracticed skill in today’s complex healthcare environment. Facts and data alone are not enough to capture and hold the attention of the busiest physicians, who are pulled in multiple directions at once.

To succeed, MSLs have an opportunity contextualize scientific and clinical data to communicate it in an engaging narrative. The key to translating medical information and data into a compelling story is to start by knowing your audience. MSLs must provide the right context and gear their approach toward their audience’s top priorities.

To do so, we must go beyond the multiple sources of information and insights about physicians and experts that we have available. Read physicians’ papers and presentations. Learn about their research interests and passions. For instance, a platform like Monocl helps bring together untapped sources of information and data and offers actionable insights so MSLs can work smarter, not harder.

Equally important is that MSLs must do the investigative work to find out who or what else influences physicians’ treatment decisions. Talk to their staff, other practice providers they work with, and the chief of the department. Leverage all sources, then map out and triangulate those influencers. Understand who they are and what they need, then speak to those needs and integrate them into your medical narrative.

Once you’ve characterized your audience, incorporate those insights that can be mined with modern data analytics. Advances in data analytics will help drive predictive modeling and “next best action” support – making it important for MSLs to learn how to incorporate this type of data into their engagement plans. The end goal is bringing together all data points and personal networks into a long-term, multi-pronged engagement strategy. This requires business acumen, but can be achieved with a unique blend of human connection, personal communication, and tailored information.

Going beyond the science, creating a connection, and consciously considering how to share data in an engaging way is a skill that can be learned, and can make all the difference in HCP interactions.

Use of socio-behavioral science to improve patient experience

The industry’s colossal efforts to find a vaccine amid the COVID-19 pandemic have shone a public spotlight on the difficulties that pharma companies face conducting research and bringing new therapies to market – resulting in an uptick in the public’s trust in the industry. Medical affairs is critical to keeping this trust alive by creating a two-way dialog where physicians get scientifically reliable answers to their questions, not just personal opinion.

Socio-behavioral sciences can help MSLs becoming more physician- and patient-centric, and ultimately improve the patient experience. Behavioral scientists study the intersection of how human beings engage with their everyday environment, collecting valuable insights about why people make the decisions they do.

Recently, businesses across industries have hired behavioral scientists, with Fortune 500 companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft creating new roles of Chief Behavioral Officer (CBO). Bloomberg predicts that the top jobs for the next decade will be behavioral scientists and data analysts.

Patient communications and digital platforms are two areas ripe for transformation by behavioral sciences.

1. Patient Communications

Much of healthcare has become a partnership between the physician and the patient to engage in shared treatment decision making. For this to be successful, HCPs must better communicate clinical data to patients in a way they can understand, with the help of principles from health literacy.

MSLs can provide communications materials that educate patients about outcomes that are meaningful to their daily lives and provide the data patients need to make a treatment decision. By injecting behavior science principles into their interactions with HCPs, MSLs can guide them toward new ways to engage with their patients via patient-centric communications.

2. Digital Platforms

The digital platforms we use to engage with patients must feature user-experience design and high usability. Pharmaceutical companies often do not fully consider how to digitally engage with patients in a way that is interesting, relevant, and easy for them.

Medical affairs teams can add tremendous value by working with HCPs and their patients to incorporate behavioral science to co-develop digital tools and testing them with the end user. MSLs can also be instrumental in pushing HCPs to better communicate with their patients, then gathering these insights about patient behaviors, needs, and wants.

Socio-behavioral sciences will require a culture shift within the industry, and MSLs can be the bridge – integrating the patient perspective and pushing HCPs to engage with patients more carefully.

Incorporating health economics data into medical affairs

The issue of how to effectively manage the pricing of life-altering medications remains prevalent. Cutting-edge innovative treatment options, combined with the scrutiny on drug pricing, complicate the value determination process and access to new treatments.

Health economics and outcomes research (HEOR) may offer a way forward. The synergy of combining the right data (outcomes research) with thoughtful (health) economic analyses based on multiple stakeholder perspectives ensures that even complex healthcare questions around value and pricing can be evaluated rationally. MSLs can access much of this data, but are currently limited with who they can share it with – specifically with payers but not physicians. Fortunately, the FDA is starting to open pathways to get health economics information to the decision makers who need this information.

The ability to provide real data about how a new drug improves health outcomes is crucial to justifying the cost. Medical teams will need to shift their mindset from one of pure science to one that considers the dynamics of healthcare and integrates HEOR information in their analysis and communication. This is especially important as the U.S. moves to more managed healthcare with more medical groups and integrated delivery networks rather than individual practices.

For MSLs, they will need to become comfortable extending their vocabulary to engage with business executives. Business acumen and HEOR will likely be as important to the conversation as clinical trial results. HEOR methods are often the vanguard of healthcare evaluations with dynamic, innovative methods to address value demonstration and market access in the constantly changing environment.

The MSL teams of the near future will understand the science and be able to communicate the true value that justifies appropriate pricing and access decisions. They will prove instrumental in helping companies thrive, even in a price-sensitive environment, and generate the value justification to ensure patients have access to innovative new medicines.

Investigative research in rare disease medical affairs

We are producing life-altering treatments and cures for diseases in record time. In fact, a record-breaking 22 orphan drugs were approved in 2019 for rare diseases. While the FDA’s approval of groundbreaking treatments for rare diseases is exciting, it also introduces new hurdles for the industry.

Historically, MSLs have identified KOLs based on their volumes of clinical trials or peer-reviewed publications. But in the case of rare diseases, this historical information doesn’t exist due to limited research or at least not in the quantity needed to reliably denote expert status. Finding experts in rare disease often requires MSLs to do more detective-work, searching more sources for those who align with their scientific programs.

For MSLs working in rare diseases, collecting as much quantitative data as possible is a key step to help pave the path to success. Providers of advanced data analytics are helping the life sciences industry by aggregating vast volumes of publicly available data sources, real-world data, and other proprietary collections of information. Plus, they are running sophisticated algorithms that allow MSLs to identify small, specific pools of potential experts.

For example, Monocl’s data system aligns its search functionality with the relevant lexicon of terms for each rare disease, allowing MSLs to efficiently research topics across clinical trials, conferences, publications, organization involvement, and other key activities, like social media. Monocl also offers a constantly evolving and updated data set in real time that will capture and index relevant information for these diseases as fast as they are evolving.

MSLs are skilled at talking through the science of new therapies and how each fits into the treatment landscape, but it is also important to share the information received from doctors with the company. Personalized relationships will build the trust required for experts to share deeper insights, observations, and questions – and this will continuously elevate engagements like a domino effect.

Providing greater value is key for medical affairs

The pandemic has heightened the MSL’s importance, particularly as busy HCPs are overwhelmed by the ever-changing science and research due to so many unknowns of COVID-19. Trusted MSLs who provide information and resources are immensely valuable and could help lead to a new treatment or vaccine.

With all of the new classes of drugs and the increased focus on rare diseases, MSLs will need to deliver relevant, unbiased scientific data while also demonstrating the value of treatments to justify their price tag. Understanding the access landscape, therefore, is as important as understanding the science.

Leveraging the right technology and data is also critical to ensuring MSLs can identify and engage with the right medical experts at the right time and with the right channel. MSLs will need to data that is constantly being updated to keep up with almost daily changes in information about diseases and health economics. Deep insights through machine learning-powered technology solutions will help drive strategic planning and more precise engagement with medical experts and healthcare providers.

With actionable insights in hand, MSLs can take the time to develop a one-to-one relationship and zone in on what experts need to know for their current patients, rather than doing a data dump of information that’s not relevant. Success will always come back to whether the information MSLs provide and the overall engagement is valuable to the person receiving it. It’s all about providing greater value.

Robert Groebel, VP of Global Medical Strategy, Monocl