In the last decade, the emergence of digital information request management systems (IRMS) has helped revolutionize medical affairs.
Before these tools, MA teams often relied on a customer relationship management (CRM) tool as the sole software for managing and handling inbound information requests. In some cases, teams had little more than spreadsheets to help them field queries.
A spreadsheet is an impractical tool for tracking who knows what, and who needs to know what. In the collaborative world of contemporary pharmacology, managing those information flows is crucial.
As freelance science director Heidi A. Schreiber and Todd Parker at MedThink SciCo point out, there is a whole network of medical directors, medical information professionals, health economics and outcomes researchers, and medical affairs professionals “who can provide their own unique perspective regarding the knowledge gaps of external audiences and how external audiences perceive therapeutic areas or products.”
Those perspectives do everything from informing treatment options to facilitating pharmacovigilance to spurring new R&D.
The rise of the IRMS has helped all of these teams find newer, better ways to collaborate, and this has coincided with the expanding role of medical affairs, which today must build and maintain “strong relationships with ever more sophisticated payers, patient and advocacy groups,” the team at Pharmadrome writes.
Here is how medical affairs teams are facilitating knowledge management and cross-team collaboration with IRMS tools.
Engagement with external stakeholders is a key responsibility for all medical affairs professionals, and that engagement depends on the MA professional’s ability to see the bigger picture.
In an October 2020 MAPS town hall Q&A, Eric Mortensen and Liviu Niculescu, respectively from Janssen Immunology and Bluebird Bio, argued that any successful medical science liaison must be conversant in topics such as big healthcare trends, treatment options, devices and disease states when healthcare providers (HCPs) reach out to them with questions. That’s how professional relationships get built on trust and scientific exchange.
At the same time, this is a significant ask. Stakeholders now expect medical affairs to be subject-matter experts in a variety of domains, including being “experts on the health care system, [understanding] how health care policy is drafted and how it impacts the system,” writes Viraj Rajadhyaksha, AstraZeneca’s medical lead for Middle East and Africa.
“This would help them in getting into a meaningful partnership with physicians, policymakers and patient groups and exploring new solutions. The evolution of a medical professional from an expert in a particular medication to an expert in healthcare would be significant.”
At the same time, the needs of HCPs are changing rapidly. The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have changed MA-stakeholder relationships in fundamental ways. For example, Sameer Desai and Ashish Mahajan, respectively of Mundipharma and Deloitte, wrote in June 2020 that life sciences companies must adopt asynchronous digital communication strategies to reach HCPs.
This is something more profound than switching to virtual conferencing. HCPs now look for things like self-service knowledge portals so they can search for insights on their own time, at their own pace.
That kind of self-service scientific exchange is something an IRMS can facilitate, but more on that in a minute. First, it’s important to visualize how MA teams collaborate internally, too, so that we have a complete view of insight sharing.
There is a necessary divide between medical and commercial teams, but these teams still collaborate at several points throughout the life cycle of any given therapy. Therefore, it is important for both sides to align.
“[I]f each department knows how the other works, what matters most to them, what ‘good’ looks like to them in the short‑term and the long‑term, then they are better positioned to work with them productively,” says Paresh Sewpaul, head of hematology medical affairs at Janssen. “It has to go both ways, you need each side to understand the other to make the relationship work really well.”
That’s not to say medical affairs should be tracking sales, the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs writes. Rather, medical affairs should be helping everyone in the organization gain a “360-degree view that allows the two sides to be aware of each other’s activities so that everyone can provide better service to physicians, patients and other stakeholders.”
Technology teams in other industries have worked this way for at least a generation. In software development, for example, dev teams are supported by execution teams, which relay market conditions and customer requirements back to the engineers and developers building products. Researchers Ross Dawson, John Helferich, Rob Cross and Kate Ehrlich outlined this model nicely in a 2008 paper.
Analogously, medical teams function as execution teams and help relay the needs of various stakeholders back to product teams, which informs the whole product lifecycle. In this network model of cross-team coordination, teams share a mutual “awareness of current work and expertise,” Dawson et al. write, and everyone understands what external relationships are affected through their work.
It’s only at this point, with the perspectives of external stakeholders and internal teams taken into account, that the benefits of an IRMS become clear.
Because MA stands at the nexus of so many relationships, knowledge management can become complicated. Requests for medical information, for example, can be numerous, which is why it is advantageous to have a central system to record those alongside things like adverse-event notices or product complaints.
That is the role an IRMS plays in medical affairs today, and here are the key benefits having such a tool provides.
Accurate, consistent insights form the basis for those MA-external stakeholder relationships. With an IRMS, medical affairs can track which HCPs reach out with questions such as applications for off-label use, and the efficacy of those treatments.
Likewise, an IRMS can add a new level of intelligence to adverse-event tracking. Beyond simply flagging and recording those events, an IRMS can help teams keep robust records of:
Here is a major point at which MA’s insight-gathering can directly impact other internal teams. An IRMS can handle all product complaint tracking as well as consequent correspondence. That data, then, can be tracked, stored and relayed to relevant teams within the organization.
Ideally, an IRMS would integrate fully into the medical team’s knowledge-management environment so that there would be a central point of control for what documents get shared, and with whom.
This way, the right internal teams and the right external stakeholders get access to the insights they need when they need them.
Further, a content-management module will allow the IRMS to facilitate cross-team document management so that co-collaborators can do things like add comments to shared documents.
An IRMS should also serve as a funnel for information flows. That’s what will help medical teams manage all of their various data sources as well as any outbound insights. Our IRMS Medical Affairs Software Suite — which include document-based content management tools as well as several modules for tasks such as tracking adverse events or quality assurance — gives medical teams a single dashboard to see that all information is tracked and acted upon.
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