Until very recently, functional operations for many Medical Affairs teams relied on legacy processes underpinned by multiple, disconnected systems. Strategies often began by identifying a small subset of physician experts in a therapeutic area, then these “top tier” physicians were organized in a static list and became the targets for company-wide engagement initiatives.
Slowly, things are changing, thanks in part to the forcing function of COVID-19.
Outdated approaches, especially those used to quantify a particular scientific landscape and the associated value of strategic engagement, are giving way to medical objectives powered by global analytics, centralized planning, and cross-functional digital execution. These insight-driven efforts now address the shared goals of the sponsoring organization and aligned experts for mutual benefits.
Now, Medical Affairs asks deeper, multifaceted questions about the healthcare marketplace. For example, what is the role and impact of scientific leaders, and how is the current standard-of-care embraced by treatment experts? Addressing these questions to align resources and efforts requires an enhanced understanding of how existing data impacts patient care and a broad group of experts in a therapeutic area. To be successful, today’s strategies must incorporate a deep understanding of the broader ecosystem and individual physician relationships with pharmaceutical companies as well as other medical organizations in the competitive landscape. Insights gained from understanding these intermingling connections will illuminate potential challenges teams may encounter.
“Medical Affairs teams face a new paradigm requiring them to stay current on ever-expanding data and information about traditional thought leaders, balanced with a new dynamic of connecting with rising stars who are active in the digital space,” says Alexey Medvedchikov, Regional Medical Operations Manager at Boehringer Ingelheim.* “This is particularly challenging in specialty therapeutic areas where the information is compounding at a faster pace than ever before in history.”
Weighing how and when to build relationships with emerging experts, working to prevent relationship erosion with traditional leaders, and staying abreast of emerging scientific output all require a more thoughtful approach to strategic engagement.
Shifting from “Opinion Leadership” to “Expertise”
When considering the chasm between academic research and real-world care demands, teams must pivot their approach to expert identification to strengthen their ability to generate effective strategies. Scientific experts play a critical role in translating evidence into opportunities, but it is the clinical expert that is critical to apply these opportunities and improve outcomes.
Key performance indicators must accurately reflect the primary elements of a medical plan to ensure the success of any long-term engagement campaign. This ensures a Medical Affairs department can leverage data and evidence related to treatment paradigms, mechanisms of action, and competitors—then align those data points with experts to inform strategic engagement planning.
The right person to build a strong, meaningful relationship with should be thoughtfully considered, according to each organization’s specific engagement strategy. The goal is not necessarily to find the leading physicians in a therapeutic area—the “top 100.” Rather, identify the right individual who has influence within a larger network of healthcare professionals (HCPs). An analytics-based approach allows for a smarter, strategic competitive landscape assessment that aligns with specific goals and objectives.
“For ages, Medical Affairs has focused only on key opinion leader identification but now there are so many new and niche indications and specialty therapeutic areas where there is little historical knowledge and there are many other influencers to consider,” Medvedchikov explains. “We need to build a better knowledge base fast. Automated solutions play a fundamental role here.”
Strategic efforts can pinpoint the most appropriate experts to communicate with about the science of a product, emerging innovation, or treatment opportunities—an approach that goes far beyond the limitations of a generic list of the “ivory tower” experts.
Using Better Data for Strategic Engagement
As the quantity of data available continues to skyrocket, Medical Affairs is evolving to become the third pillar in life sciences alongside commercial and R&D.1 Pharmaceutical companies are continuously looking for ways to achieve better patient outcomes—and Medical Affairs has shown its importance in helping move the needle across the organization.
The next step forward is for Medical Affairs to become more strategic in its approach to engaging with experts as well as use more of the data at its disposal to execute on company-wide objectives. A data-driven solution that integrates physician information enables Medical Affairs teams to look at additional data and take a more strategic approach, creating more personalized physician interactions in the process. By leveraging the virtually endless supply of data, Medical Affairs teams can tailor their engagements with physicians and use this data to drive decision-making.
For Medical Affairs today, everything comes down to the data and analysis applied. The traditional methodology of a static top 100 list and manual data entry into a spreadsheet must be replaced by modern technologies that enable data-driven engagement. Other areas across life sciences companies are already leveraging such platforms that provide real-time data aggregated from multiple sources and empower efforts that are continuously updated and informed both globally and cross functionally.
Medical Affairs must make every effort to understand the broadest pool of experts possible, including information about the clinical trials they are participating in and their publications both inside and outside of the organization. The more information and real-time data that is available, the more capable the team will be at pointing the collective efforts in the right direction.
This capability also goes beyond just Medical Affairs. Companies can track activities such as educational grants, clinical trials, and peer-reviewed publications, just to name a few. The question of “What is our relationship with physicians in my therapeutic area?” is a powerful measure of the impact and, at an individual level, can highlight where issues may need to be addressed.
With the power to answer these questions and more, Medical Affairs can continue to move toward more strategic, data-driven approaches to expert engagement.
Determining the Impact of a Complete Global Expert Solution
An integrated solution for expert identification and scientific engagement offers significant ROI across many different fronts. With real-time data and insights, organizations can assess multiple kinds of expert merits and drive scientific engagement in a harmonized and highly strategic way. Medical teams can spend more time engaging with physicians, providing them with the scientific information they need, generating applicable insights, and ensuring that engagement delivers the appropriate impact. This decreases overall costs for the enterprise from fewer “false starts” and more subjectively informed engagement that leads to more reliable, long-term relationships.
The importance of Medical Affairs in developing and launching new therapies—and ultimately improving patient outcomes—continues to grow. This expanding prominence, though, comes with unique challenges, many of which come down to how to make the most effective use of resources.
Medvedchikov concludes, “To fully enable Medical Affairs, we need to invest in ways to efficiently understand the communications channel preferences of experts. Next, we need to find a better way to keep up with increasing volume of activities of experts, both traditional physicians publishing papers and digital influencers who are communicating frequently online. Third, we need to equip and train customer-facing Medical Affairs teams to orchestrate channel communications based on customer preferences. Accomplish these goals, and Medical Affairs teams will deliver tremendous value.”
*Opinions expressed are of Alexey Medvedchikov and do not reflect the opinions of Boehringer Ingelheim.