Implementing a Customer-Centric Mindset in Medical Affairs

October 20, 2020
Julian Upton

Julian Upton is Pharmaceutical Executive’s European and Online Editor. He can be reached at jupton@mjhlifesciences.com

The Medical Affairs Digital Strategy Council's Mary Alice Dwyer and Indegene's Sameer Lal talk to Pharm Exec about how digital solutions can help the Medical Affairs function take a leadership role 
in ensuring fast, efficient, and meaningful responses to all stakeholders at a time of intense pressure.

A new White Paper co-authored by members of the Medical Affairs Digital Strategy Council (MADSC) and supported by the healthcare solutions company, Indegene, calls for the Medical Affairs function to embrace a customer-centric mindset through digital transformation. Following the publication of From Aspirations to Actions, Pharm Exec spoke to MADSC executive program committee chair, Mary Alice Dwyer, and Sameer Lal, senior vice president of Indegene, to discuss how digital solutions can help Medical Affairs to take a leadership role 
in ensuring fast, efficient, and meaningful responses to all stakeholders at a time of intense pressure.

PharmExec: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the role of Medical Affairs with regard to the customer experience?

Mary Alice Dwyer: The pandemic has clearly created the opportunity to move to virtual engagements and to think about engagement from the HCP perspective. The pandemic has also highlighted the shift in HCP preference towards a more scientific and data-led interaction with the pharma industry. Medical Affairs has always been responsible for these two areas and leading from the front with scientific dialogue. HCPs are expecting current updates and trends, relevant information and unbiased product /scientific information provided to them in a format that is engaging, interactive, crisp, and available at their preferred time. Clearly, digital transformation is the way to meet and exceed these expectations.

The experience of consuming content on Netflix, shopping on Amazon, or hailing an Uber ride has set the same expectation everywhere regardless of the industry and pharma will have to play catch-up.

What does the White Paper conclude are the most urgent priorities for the Medical Affairs function at this time?

Dwyer: The White Paper lists three calls to action for Medical Affairs:

  • Change the mindset and put the customer first. The traditional approach has always been to look at our products and services and see which customers they relate to. We need instead to start from the customer insight first and then work towards solving their problems.
  • Champion technological changes that are needed
  • Challenge and evolve the regulations that don’t make sense for customers.

Medical Affairs will need to take action now to embrace the opportunity for transformation that is in front of us.

What strategic and practical steps can pharma companies and leaders take to embed a customer centric mindset in Medical Affairs?

Sameer Lal: A critical first step in the planning process is gathering customer insights through research and data to answer the following questions: “Who are the customers? What defines them? What job are they trying to get done?” This data maps the customer journey to help organizations understand the customer experience as customers actually experience it — a complete journey that cuts across multiple functions and channels.

Building effective cross-functional partnerships and breaking down traditional functional silos will enable Medical Affairs to be more impactful in working collaboratively with a common purpose to improve customer experience. As with any change-management program, endorsement from senior leadership is key to success and to fostering a culture of experimentation and exploration of ideas.

Alongside experimentation, there must be effective governance and respect for the guardrails that are essential in a regulated industry. Blending teams of traditional medical-scientific backgrounds with emerging skill sets in technology and data is an effective way of achieving this.

In addition to capabilities, investing in infrastructure is key. Focusing only on the front-end experience without changing the back-end operations that support it is unlikely to be sustainable.

Core to delivery is an omnichannel approach, which involves delivering a data-driven, customer-centric experience that flows seamlessly across channels and devices.

Bottom line, a company must embed digital in its operations and ways of working, rather than bolting it on as a separate project or through a separate team. Digital must form the bedrock across functions in a seamless and integrated way — this is the only way to bring a significant shift in the organization

What recent technological advancements can help to facilitate this change in Medical Affairs?

Lal: A number of companies have started to push the envelope in leveraging contemporary technologies like AI and machine learning in the day to day processes and interactions. Virtual MSLs driven by analytics and insights can significantly transform customer engagement. Intelligent content authoring (as opposed to structured content authoring) is now sophisticated enough to get first draft developed without any human involvement. Similarly, AI-enabled claims management are transforming the MLR review and approval of content.

We are seeing a very refreshing trend of companies willing to invest in incubation/ innovation centers to experiment early (and sometimes fail early) to seek new ways to transform their operating models. 

Similarly, how can the regulatory landscape be navigated?

Dwyer: Regulatory constraints were cited as one of the main barriers restricting the uptake of digital solutions. The following positive steps were recommended to evolve the regulatory environment by:

  • establishing the trust that is essential among the regulatory authorities, customers, and the public;
  • having a united voice as “one industry” when negotiating with regulatory authorities;
  • creating internal awareness and understanding of how regulations have progressed and challenging traditional interpretations that are not factually based;
  • evolving our positioning among regulators from a “provider of products” to a “provider of services.”

We have been talking about this for years. We need to stop using the regulations as an excuse and move on to working in partnership with regulatory authorities to find solutions to deliver a better experience for customers and ensure patient safety.

Can you elaborate on the concept of human centered design?

Lal: Human-centered design is one of the cornerstones for delivering good customer experience and interactions in Medical Affairs. In our view it is inspired and co-developed by the ultimate users and consists of

  • user experience is intuitive and effortless;
  • joined up and seamless experience and systems (omnichannel);
  • and is aligned with the user’s workflow with easy and quick access in real time.

How do you expect the customer experience to evolve over the next few years (and post-pandemic) with regard to Medical Affairs?

Dwyer: There used to be a time when customer experience and medical affairs were never spoken in the same sentence! More and more customers expect service providers to provide a highly personalized and individualized approach. Pharmaceutical companies are no exception to this and must rise to the challenge before external entrants (like Amazon) take this space. Medical Affairs is in a strong strategic position to lead and drive customer centricity; digital will be a key enabler in this transition. Now is the time for everyone working in Medical Affairs to think outside the box and find meaningful solutions for customers and ultimately, patients. The COVID-19 crisis has shown, how Medical Affairs can rise to the challenge and take a leadership role in ensuring fast, efficient, and meaningful responses to all stakeholders at a time of intense pressure.

This is a marathon, not a sprint, requiring long-term investment and commitment from leadership. The time is right to move from aspiration to action and drive the change that needs to happen to put the customer first and foremost.

Mary Alice Dwyer, MAPS board Member and chair of the Medical Affairs Digital Strategy Council's executive program committee, is principle/consultant with Medical Innovations and Insights, LLC. Sameer Lal, SVP, Indegene, heads a business unit focusing on services to Medical Affairs functions in life sciences companies.

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