How and Why the New ‘Over-Time’ Is Transforming the Work of Medical Affairs

What’s next and lasting in engagement for medical affairs and commercial teams isn’t complicated, but a big shift is here to stay, according to analysis of an industry survey.

Results and analysis recently released from a Reuters Health survey of life science roles, including 82% in medical affairs, found that the majority believe advisory boards and steering committees (80% and 65%, respectively) will remain virtual, even as in-person options resume. The respondents included medical affairs roles from pharmaceutical (75%), biotech (19%), medical device (5%), and consumer health manufacturers (1%).

COVID-19 more clearly focused the work of some medical affairs and commercial teams because convenience and inclusivity drive high program participation rates, modernizing medical affairs programs and translating directly to downstream insight generation.

Gains in inclusion, engagements, and insights driven by the elimination of constraints during a forced shift to asynchronous—or over-time—virtual and hybrid engagements are a boon for medical affairs activities. Technology is also helping break down geographic constraints, hierarchy influence, cumbersome contribution requirements, and language barriers, all generating meaningful gains in insight generation.

In the full research report, Bayer SVP and Head of Medical and Scientific Affairs Surjeel Choudhri says, “By obviating the logistical challenges of getting to and from live events, virtual advisory boards are more accessible,” and that the digital dimension also delivered additional value. “If anything,” he adds, “they were much richer than face-to-face meetings.”

The reason for this enrichment? People were more readily available, often more focused, and had access to more avenues of communication to share anecdotes and journal references. There also was greater continuity because information could be shared before and after, meaning there was greater follow-through.

Content key for engaging healthcare professionals (HCPS)

We also can glean from a deeper analysis of the survey results that key opinion leaders and HCPs gravitate to engagements that meet their needs—and these needs are often met in a virtual venue. Teams that find the optimal mix of engagement strategies and tactics more quickly than their competitors will have an edge.

Established experts and rising stars alike appreciate a feeling of inclusivity, and the presence or absence of it can encourage or hamper deeper participation. While in-person advisory boards offer networking opportunities, the ability to contribute to scientific discussion can be compromised by time limitations, dominant personalities, or derailed conversations that veer off course. Virtual environments provide everyone with equal time to be heard, resulting in a richer experience with more meaningful content.

For HCPs, the choice to engage virtually often hinges on compliance—whether or not technology meets ethical standards for sharing information—as well as accessibility and convenience. Concise information, scientific exchange that gets right to the point, and access to up-to-date data are priorities. “Easier access to data from clinical trials and real-world evidence data sets, publications, and patient-expressed need in one place would increase [HCPs’] ability to deliver impact at exactly the right point in the conversation,” says Jazz Pharmaceuticals’ director of medical excellence and capabilities, Victoria Ho.

If content is king for medical affairs, it stands to reason that the tools, technologies, and methods that support inclusivity and convenience will remove impediments to engagement. “Everybody knows stakeholders want high-quality, credible, unbiased exchange of scientific information, and they want it on demand…not when we are willing to provide it,” says Kumaran Krishnan, director of medical excellence and digital transformation at Teva EU.

Finding the right hybrid engagement mix

If survey respondents believe interactions like advisory boards and steering committees will remain virtual but also report that in-person meetings can be high-value opportunities, how can medical affairs and commercial teams plan accordingly? The answer is to find an optimal blend of virtual and face-to-face engagements that give HCPs what they want.

​​Real-time meetings—one-time webcasts, video conferences, or even in-person events that require every attendee to be available at the same time—have their share of roadblocks: schedules that differ due to work hours or time zones, and the (often false) assumption that everyone will be able to give their full attention for the duration of the meeting and that all agenda items will fit into the time allotted. Simply put, real-time interaction isn’t the right venue for every type of work, at least not on its own.

Over-time meetings that supplement live events preserve the personal touch of peer-to-peer interaction while being friendlier to everyone’s schedule. Many medical affairs teams now use asynchronous discussions to agree on an agenda prior to a real-time meeting, then go back to an async venue to confirm next steps or conduct follow-up. It’s simply a better use of resources and allows live discussion to be more focused on the science.

We’ll always crave in-person meetings, and some events, like medical congresses, simply work better in a face-to-face environment. But medical affairs teams continue to evolve, shifting more activities to virtual, and many will prioritize methods that yield more diverse discussion, increased convenience, and a focus on scientific narrative rather than logistics.

Disclosure: Within3 provided financial support for the referenced and quoted survey conducted by Reuters Health.

Mike Abbadessa, executive director of medical affairs, Within3