Over the last several years, the MSL role has expanded to the point that today the vast majority of top pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. have an MSL team. More recently, the role has seen explosive growth in other regions as well, particularly across Europe and Asia. The primary driver for the growth of the role across the industry is due to the value that MSLs deliver to KOLs. A few recent studies have demonstrated that KOLs and other healthcare providers actually prefer to engage with and place a higher value on the information they receive from MSLs versus sales reps. As physicians and KOLs increasingly prefer to engage with and rely upon MSLs from pharmaceutical, biotechnology, contract research organizations (CROs) and medical device companies, the question has emerged: Is it time for industry wide standardized training and/or an MSL certification?
The MSL Society in collaboration with one of its key partners, Thought Leader Select, a strategic research and consulting firm focused on optimizing KOL interactions, conducted a recent survey to answer this question. The survey included more than 300 responses from 21 countries, representing medical affairs professionals across multiple levels of responsibilities that ranged from MSLs to hiring managers and executives. The participants represented a broad range of MSL and medical affairs organizations, ranging from large, medium and small pharmaceutical companies to those representing bio-technology, medical device firms and CROs.
Although MSLs are increasingly valued as a medical resource by the KOLs they engage with, the results of the survey have identified some interesting results related to MSL training practices and the possible need for an MSL certification.
Only slightly more than half of the respondents (52%) reported that their company offers a formal on-boarding MSL training program. When asked on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the least and 10 being the most) if this training adequately prepared them to engage with KOLs, these same respondents only ranked their training 5.95 out of 10. In addition, 44% of respondents reported that they were not required to take any assessments/examinations to evaluate their product knowledge, disease expertise or competitive intelligence prior to engaging with KOLs.
The survey also asked participants several questions about what was included in their initial training. Although presenting scientific data to KOLs is an essential skill to be an effective MSL, 59% of respondents reported that presentation/communication skills training were not part of their initial on-board training or offered. However, when asked on the same 1 to 10 scale how valuable they believed it would be if their company offered formal training in presentation/communication skills, respondents gave it a score of 8.3 out of 10.
Finally, possibly the most interesting question in the survey asked if MSLs should be required to take an accreditation/certification course or program. Forty-three percent of the MSL community surveyed said definitely “yes” while 19% stated they “don’t know.”
As a result of the importance that MSLs increasingly play in the success of pharmaceutical companies in helping to advance medical science to ultimately improve the quality of patient’s lives, adequate and consistent training will be crucial to the ongoing success of MSL teams.
Is it time for an industry wide MSL certification?