Editor’s Note: In the March issue of PM360, Lance Hill’s article, “Why Digital Collaboration is Gaining such Broad Adoption in Life Sciences,” included an overview of digital collaboration within the healthcare and life sciences industries. In this article, he offers a real-life application—how three online advisory boards conducted by Top 10 pharmaceutical companies delivered additional value, convenience, and efficiencies as compared to live meetings held in previous years.
As medical and brand directors become more knowledgeable about digital collaboration, we are seeing a shift in the industry. Increased pressure to maximize productivity is motivating executives to assess the value a digital collaboration platform brings to business goals and objectives. While live meetings will always have a place in the industry, conducting online advisory boards can minimize or eliminate many of the complications and expenses of live boards, while still realizing the benefits. Increasingly, companies are recognizing the advantages of blending both approaches to gain increased optimization and cost efficiencies.
BENEFITS FOR ADVISORS
Digital collaboration programs provide busy thought leaders with the flexibility of engaging when it is best for them—from their home or office—before rounds and appointments, or after work. Advisors also appreciate the ease and opportunity to participate in thoughtful dialogue and sharing in clinical insights with their peers. In fact, according to a recent post-program survey, 83 percent of participating advisors preferred the experience of a virtual meeting versus a live-only advisory meeting.
While live meetings can create a sense of camaraderie, the logistics of a time-constrained event preclude ongoing discussion. Once the advisors return home, the momentum of the peer-to-peer discussion vanishes, along with their ability to communicate and collaborate. They value the opportunity to connect with peers that a digital platform provides, as well as the additional time to give more thought to their answers before they contribute to the discussion.
Current regulations, such as the Sunshine Act, are also making it less attractive for advisors to participate in live meetings and subsequently they are becoming more hesitant to attend. According to a study performed by the research firm Market Probe, 32 percent of physicians stated their participation in market research would decrease due to the Sunshine Act.
BENEFITS FOR PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES
The overhead required to successfully plan and conduct an in-person advisory board is substantial, and typically long lead times are required to reserve venues and dates on executive calendars. Traditional advisory boards require companies to devote vast amounts of time and energy to ensure the advisors arrive. There are costly travel and accommodation expenses, in addition to the brand team’s time out of the office. Using a digital platform precludes these complications, resulting in a more efficient and cost-effective meeting. Agency partners, in turn, can focus on higher-value content and communication services instead of managing out-of-pocket and low-end logistical details.
The Sunshine Act also brings challenges to pharmaceutical manufacturers. As companies face requirements to report all spending on physician-related activities, disclosure of legitimate transfers of value can be misconstrued. This could cause potential damage to the public’s perceptions of the companies’ intentions. With the Sunshine Act as a catalyst, many companies are re-evaluating their approaches to thought leaders, turning to digital collaboration as an alternative to engaging them earlier and more effectively.
FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE
Below are three examples of what was learned from three Top 10 pharmaceutical companies that substituted traditional advisory boards with virtual platforms. Although the companies’ objectives differed, all sought to leverage the advantages of digital collaboration to enhance their thought leader engagement.
Company A: A US-based virtual advisory board was implemented for 12 months, with plans to expand globally. The objective was to gain advisors’ expertise on a particular disease state.
Company B: A US-based virtual advisory board was implemented to augment a previous face-to- face meeting. Two sets of advisors (Primary Care Physicians and Specialists) were asked to evaluate resources for one of the company’s products.
Company C: A US-based virtual advisory board comprised of a multidisciplinary group was implemented to augment a future face-to-face meeting and to generate an agenda from the advisors’ feedback. The program ran for 11 days so advisors could gain an understanding of the educational strategy and best practices of a particular disease state.
Each company wanted to optimize efficiencies and reduce costs. They also needed to gain insights as the advisors engaged, collaborated, shared clinical insights and formed relationships. Another priority was a format for faster, more convenient information exchange; one where critical information could be accessed easily, especially regarding market changes. Most importantly, it was critical for them to be in a secure, regulatory-compliant environment.
To optimize the efficiency of each advisory board, primary areas were identified where inefficiencies associated with live meetings could be reduced or eliminated. The companies were prepped so they fully understood the digital collaboration platform—how the program would be implemented, how advisors would participate, and how the virtual program could provide more value and cost-savings. Based on each objective, a scalable solution was provided that was easy-to-use and intuitive to advisors, encouraging sustained engagement.
Following the launch of each advisory board, a community implementation team ensured the clients’ success by providing forum setup, content management, user orientation and moderator training. A combination of moderation tools and process expertise minimized the clients’ risks to ensure optimal results. During each of the virtual advisory boards, the clients’ internal medical, legal and regulatory teams were highly involved to ensure the online environments were compliant.
NOTHING VENTURED, NOTHING GAINED
All three advisory boards delivered additional value, convenience, efficiency and compliance. As they experienced a new and successful way to conduct advisory boards, the companies gained:
- Increased thought leader engagement across the franchise
- More meaningful discussions and peer-to-peer interactions
- A faster, more convenient platform with 24-hour accessibility
- A detailed transcript, collecting instant insights and learnings
- A regulatory-compliant environment governing interactions
- A reduction in costs associated with traditional in-person advisory boards
- Increased compliance through engagement capture and system access
Average cost savings of virtual advisory boards range between 15 percent and 30 percent. The programs far exceeded initial goals of the companies, especially in terms of the advisors’ engagement and quality of actionable advisor insights.
The digital collaboration platform also enabled the companies to recruit advisors who could not attend a live meeting. The advisors were pleased with the ease-of-use and ability to participate from home and office. Far beyond survey style responses, the online sessions drove continued interactive dialogue. For each question, advisor posts averaged more than 100 words, and each session typically contained five to seven questions. Expert moderation kept the advisors on track and content development met everyone’s satisfaction.
ONCE YOU ARE READY TO CHOOSE, CHOOSE WISELY
Choosing to address business objectives with digital solutions is becoming more widespread. However, not all digital collaboration programs are created equal. If you are looking to implement one, be sure to ask six important questions:
- Can the company provide a top-of-the-line experience for its customers?
- Will the pharmaceutical company’s branding and credentials be included in the online advisory board?
- Does the program maintain a regulatory-compliant environment and have compliance capabilities?
- Are there strong participation features within the program (e.g., reminders, notifications, visual and social cues, integrated web conferencing, and board access through web and mobile) for users to ensure robust feedback and group dialogue?
- Does the company have deep experience in conducting online advisory boards in pharmaceutical settings, both nationally and globally?
- Is there a strong feature-set for moderators and administrators to manage the advisory board before, during, and after the discussions?
As today’s digital collaboration solutions evolve into safer and more effective alternatives to traditional communication, physicians are already on board. According to the Manhattan Research Survey, 71 percent of physicians are interested in using physician online communities. The question, then, is not whether to integrate digital collaboration into your business strategy, but rather how to ensure you are working with a partner who can effectively meet your objectives while providing value to your participants.
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