In the last decade, the medical science liaison (MSL) profession has grown approximately 300% as they have taken on an expanded role within the medical affairs function. As with other field teams, the face-to-face interactions that make up much of their daily activities were significantly disrupted by COVID-19. However, at the height of the pandemic, even as healthcare providers were reducing their interactions with sales reps, their appetite for scientific information increased. The disease/device and therapeutic-specific expertise of MSLs became even more important as providers and health systems navigated the impact of COVID-19.
Providing clinical knowledge and information, including identifying appropriate patients for treatment, establishing treatment protocols, balancing medication risk/benefits, addressing comorbidities, and off-label use has long been the domain of MSLs. As a result, they have become key connectors and valued sources of information in the healthcare ecosystem, helping providers adapt to challenges and supporting them as they seek the best possible health outcomes for patients.
In fact, the pandemic substantially increased the attention paid to science across all levels of society. Concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on patients with underlying health conditions such as hypertension, obesity, and diabetes and risks faced by patients on medicines,1 along with questions about potential treatment options to address severe COVID cases, and the speedy development and deployment of vaccinations has elevated interest in pharmacotherapy.
This activated both providers and patients to seek out information and empower themselves with knowledge. However, the amount of easily available information and disinformation can be overwhelming and lead to confusion and doubt. While COVID-19 has facilitated more engagement, it also further heightened the challenges faced by our healthcare system when it comes to contradictory information and questionable data sources.
A Trusted Source of Information
In this environment, a trusted source is needed. MSLs can and must play this role as a critical interface between life sciences companies and stakeholders, including physicians, payers, and patients. MSLs can aid the medical community by generating real-world evidence and helping providers better identify which patients will benefit the most from specific therapies and devices while highlighting the risks. Ultimately, arming clinicians with the right resources to provide patients will help them deliver better outcomes.
Patients also welcome the expertise and transparency that MSLs bring. Advocacy groups and organizations provide a platform for patients to engage directly with the medical research community. Through them, MSLs can ensure patients have access to trusted, up-to-date content. Providing science-based educational programs will help patients engage with HCPs in the decisions about their care, empower them to participate in the treatment decision process, and ultimately, enable better outcomes.
As stewards of scientific data, MSLs are uniquely positioned to serve as ambassadors for life sciences companies and their innovations, providing unbiased, evidence-based, peer-reviewed information. Working hand-in-hand with commercial functions, MSLs have the potential to address unmet needs and help patients access new therapies.