Moving MI Forward

January 15, 2021
Julian Upton

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

Sameer Lal and Sandeep Gantotti discuss the building of a next-gen medical information practice to modernize its operations and unlock its value to the wider organization and to HCPs.

The medical information (MI) function represents an important option for HCPs to query and receive unbiased, accurate information on the appropriate usage of therapeutic products. According to Indegene, MI “may be one of the few sources of information to guide prescribing and patient care given that there may not be an extensive body of published literature.” But with the manually intensive provision of MI services remaining relatively unchanged for decades, the result of legacy processes and compliance frameworks, the MI function is ripe for modernization, says a new Indegene White Paper.

Speaking to Pharm Exec, Indegene’s Senior Vice President, Sameer Lal, and Senior Director–Medical Solutions, Sandeep Gantotti, discuss the building of a next-gen MI practice to modernize its operations and unlock its value to the larger organization while enhancing patient care. 

PharmExec: Why is the customer experience now so important in medical affairs?

Sameer Lal & Sandeep Gantotti: A general trend in the industry today is that HCPs prefer to communicate with medical affairs to get information on a company’s products. This may include MSLs, medical information, or other medical affairs staff. This may be in part due to the recognition that medical affairs provides high quality, factual, and relevant information which leads to a more peer-level discussion. This is in contrast to the scenario in the past where HCPs received information largely from sales reps. Given this reality, a great customer experience with medical affairs will differentiate an organization amongst others and lead to greater interest in that organization’s science, products and offerings.

Why is the medical information (MI) function so important in this exchange?

MI is an important source of accurate product information which can be used by an HCP to make clinical decisions on behalf of a patient. A poor experience with the MI function may lead to an HCP to get information elsewhere, which may not be reliable and potentially put patients at risk.

What are the problems with legacy MI functions?

Legacy MI functions have largely been built around a call-center model, with focus on excellence in transactions of questions and answers. They have largely been utilitarian in nature but are not built by design to have a great experience. The problems with call centers in other industries translate here as well; long call queues, the agent is not able to answer my question, having to repeat oneself when transferred to another part of the organization.

Apart from the general experience, the information received from MI is often being used to make treatment decisions for a specific patient. Often times the content provided is thorough but not necessarily useful in answering the specific question, sometimes leading to searching for information elsewhere or a disappointing experience.

Finally, the MI function is not always easy or simple to find and sometimes referred to as a company’s “best kept secret”. If MI is the authoritative source of product information, it should be easy to find so that HCPs and patients may benefit from the information provided.

What should a next-generation MI function look like?

A next-generation MI function should have a variety of flexible channels to communicate queries according to the customer’s preferences and their particular workflow. The system should also be responsive to the customer’s particular context in asking a question. We believe a concerned patient or a person experiencing an adverse event should be treated with greater sensitivity and urgency than a straightforward request for product information, and accordingly triaged and prioritized to the best possible channel to address that need. A next generation function should be designed to “remember” the question and answer thread when switching across channels. If I start a query on chat, my question should have already been shared with the call center staff when I am triaged to a live conversation. Finally, the content should be optimized in format to be consumed and used across a variety of devices and channels to meet customer needs where they are and for what reasons they have requested the information.

How should companies progress with transforming their MI?

Because MI is a global function, companies should prioritize markets and products that will create the greatest impact to the customer experience and also for operational productivity gains. They should start by answering the basic question of “why” they want to transform their MI function. Following that it is about creating scalable capabilities across systems, content development, channels and data management. We recommend an agile approach starting with smaller pilots in strategically important areas in order to either succeed or fail quickly. Leverage the successes to scale across and use the failures to quickly course correct and repeat the process. Large heavily, loaded, complex initiatives have seldom worked in our experience.