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MSL Teams Need to Digitize, or Face Being Left Behind


Even as the pharma industry increasingly embraced digital in recent years, in-person interactions remained the gold-standard of communications. This belief hampered the true power of digital interaction until a pandemic gripped the world and brought many daily work activities to a temporary stop.

The pandemic left digital communication as one of the only forms of communications still operating — four times as many clinical trials were undertaken remotely during 2020 compared to 2019.1 This meant that for the first time, we were able to prove how ineffective some aspects of the face-to-face model were. What’s more, in light of what has been achieved throughout the pandemic, digitally engaged teams became essential.

Nina Levin

Nina Levin

This is particularly true for medical science liaisons (MSL) in the pharma industry. MSLs were already at their limit pre-COVID. Products were complex, wider engagement from healthcare professionals (HCPs) was expected as standard, and key opinion leaders (KOLs) that MSLs needed to engage were time pressed.

As COVID-related pressures continue to shorten the expected timeline for drug development, the strain is now intensifying. The challenge for MSLs is to identify the most efficient way to upskill their teams and add digital competencies without overloading them.

Upskill without the overload

Although there is little argument around the benefits of improving digital competency, only 11% of UK doctors are willing to be engaged face-to-face, so upskilling field medical teams with digital capabilities is a necessity.2 The solution sounds simple, so what’s the problem?

In short, time. Taking MSLs away from their tasks for training is often disruptive. What’s more, in the early phases of training, the time commitment required often comes at the expense of more productive, revenue-generating activities. The truth is that for some teams, that trade-off simply isn’t an option.

On top of this, if companies were to choose a third party engagement platform, using the wrong one can have its pitfalls. Platforms may still require extensive training time for minimal benefit, either in the set-up phase or the time required to engage. Ultimately, it’s a double-edged sword between time and added value.

This is one of the main issues facing the pharma industry and a workaround needs to be found. So how can companies meet this requirement without infringing on their own time?

An asynchronous future

Virtual engagement platforms that allow communication to happen asynchronously are going to increase in demand as time goes by. These tools will replace the in-person meetings the industry has come to see as ineffective.

Asynchronous communications are enabling KOLs to be engaged anytime, anywhere. This increases the likeliness of not only participation but high-quality involvement. This is because engagement happens at a convenient time over the course of days or weeks rather than a predetermined time.

By leveraging this capability made possible through virtual engagement platforms, MSL teams can allow participants to input insights in their own time.

It also solves the time issue as these platforms are designed to be highly intuitive and generally don’t require intense technical training to successfully deploy and use.

Asynchronous training is a convenient way for MSLs to add digital capabilities. Pharma companies can simply use a virtual engagement platform to boost the digital interaction of their teams. This means engagement design, content upload, and post-engagement reporting is led by the platform vendor.

The result is increased output through advanced digital capabilities, and time saved on the training.

Engagement for the future

Ultimately, the new frontier of engagement is not about new digital skills or even saving time. The value comes from engaging KOLs at their own convenience to get better quality insights and engagement. The process is designed to be convenient and for all parties to benefit, whether they are contributing or collecting insights.

Fundamentally, an easy process should also increase the chances of building
solid relationships that allow for repeated engagement over time.

The process also brings together KOLs that may have otherwise never met or been part of the same project. By removing barriers such as time zones and physical locations, the scope of who can engage is dramatically wider than the traditional in-person model. Parties across the world can still be part of the peer-to-peer exchange of scientific information in a way that simply was not mainstream before the pandemic.

To compete in the modern world, the choice is clear. Either invest in time-intensive digital training which will impact revenue in the short term, or provide access to a virtual engagement platform which can facilitate streamlined, efficient engagement across their KOL networks.

Nina Levin is Vice President, Client Success at Within3.


  1. https://florencehc.com/downloads/2021-state-of-clinical-trial-technology-industry-report/
  2. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/life-sciences/our-insights/ready-for-launch-reshaping-pharmas-strategy-in-the-next-normal

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