It’s notoriously hard to quantify the impact a medical affairs team has, even though every innovative healthcare company understands their importance.
The challenge is two-fold. On one level, developing a drug or a therapy requires the work of many, many people, and the results of that work sometimes aren’t clear for months, often years. How do you attribute any one team’s contribution to that success when the process is so long and complex?
Further, we have witnessed a major change in the medical affairs paradigm over the last decade. MA has always been a point of intersection for many of the people who develop a treatment and bring it to market. Now, the relationships that MA professionals develop have become dynamic channels in their own right, spaces in which healthcare professionals, key opinion leaders, payers, patients, policymakers and other stakeholders share insights back and forth. How do you recognize and measure success in such a complex network?
It is possible to develop key performance indicators (KPIs) for your medical affairs team. The trick to measuring and managing your team’s success, however, is to recognize these professionals operate inside of an increasingly complex network, and raw metrics won’t ever tell a complete story.
Instead, you have to build a framework for understanding success that embraces both quantitative and qualitative metrics.
The Key Pieces of This Framework
First, it’s worth visualizing the networks in which MA professionals work.
Deloitte’s Glenn Carroll, Tom Yang, Adam Volini, Annie Xu and Seth Gazes do a nice job of this by illustrating how MA teams serve as linchpins that connect things like medical inquiry, scientific exchange, thought leadership and evidence demonstration.
MA teams “anchor customer engagement around medical information and scientific exchange” and “reduce the potential for having multiple, misaligned groups of representatives that are providing intelligence within and across customer types,” the Deloitte researchers write.
In other words, medical affairs teams create alignment.
This alignment can only be achieved, however, when MA is approached with a thoughtful strategy. The work is too complex otherwise.
So, any definition of medical affairs success needs to be rooted in strategic outcomes. Bain partners Loïc Plantevin, Christoph Schlegel and Maria Gordian offer a useful starting point in identifying some of these strategic outcomes:
- Engage stakeholders.
- Communicate the science behind a therapy.
- Bring market intelligence back to the drug development teams.
- Collect real-world evidence of a treatment’s effectiveness.
- Leverage data to communicate all of this knowledge.
This leaves us with a model that puts stakeholder engagement front and center, and one that speaks in terms of outcomes. From this perspective, a medical affairs team’s success can be measured against how well it facilitates the work of all the stakeholders it brings together.
Again, there are both qualitative and quantitative metrics to track to get a comprehensive picture.
3 Quantitative Metrics to Track
Precise metrics are only useful when the team being measured can directly influence those outcomes.
Here are three quantitative metrics that will help reveal how creatively your MA team members think and what kind of effort they are putting into engaging stakeholders.
Number of Conversations and Interactions With Key Opinion Leaders
It’s getting harder for MA professionals to connect with key opinion leaders. KOLs increasingly expect to connect with only those MA team members who have a solid grasp of the science that informs the KOL’s work.
Sarah Jarvis and Sunil John at ZS note in the company’s 2019 Medical Affairs Outlook Report that KOLs “may close their doors to individuals that do not meet their standards” of comprehension or tact.
This means MA teams need to connect with KOLs only at the right time and with the right information. Knowing what information to share is a function of comprehension. Knowing when to reach out requires some finesse, but in general it seems MA teams still prefer to engage KOLs during phase III, writes Felix Jansson, head of customer experience at Monocl.
What you will learn from this metric: How well your MA team members understand the science and evidence, and how those overlap with the needs of medical professionals.
Placements in Journals, at Conferences, on Symposia and in Training Events
KOL outreach will have its own strategic objectives, which Smart Pharma Consulting’s Jean-Michel Peny outlines in a 2019 presentation.
For a simple metric, track in how many articles, press conferences, lectures and training programs a KOL cites your research or your product. That’s a direct reflection of the quality of the relationship your MA teams build with those people.
Peny goes further in his presentation and offers some advanced metrics. Here are some examples of those:
- The reach (i.e. number of readers) for each article.
- The reach for each press conference.
- The number of attendants for each lecture.
- The number of attendants for each training session.
- The “perceived reliability” for readers or attendants in each instance.
These metrics do a better job of measuring how far a message travels and whether it resonates with audiences, but they may not be direct reflections of the MA team’s work.
After all, MA teams don’t have control over how many people attend a lecture or a press conference. Even industry-leading events are subject to unplanned changes in attendance and attention, as the COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated so thoroughly.
What you will learn from this metric: How influential your MA teams are when connecting the science to the needs of healthcare professionals and researchers.
Diversity of KOLs
What MA teams can control, however, is to whom they reach out.
Increasingly, the definition of KOL has expanded to include government representatives, pharmacists and smaller providers, the team at Arx Research writes in a 2020 whitepaper. Creative MAs are reaching out to these KOLs so they can reach a variety of audiences, the paper notes.
By segmenting and categorizing KOLs, you get an idea of the number of different audiences your MA teams are trying to reach.
What you will learn from this metric: How broad your MA team’s vision is for connecting stakeholders.
Measuring an MA Team’s Qualitative Impact
The further away an activity is from an MA team’s direct sphere of influence, the harder it is to measure with precision. That’s OK. This simply means that measuring your medical affairs department’s work against broader objectives like patient outcomes must be done through the lens of things like trends and perceived quality.
Any model of success must accept that, like hills in the distance, certain strategic outcomes won’t always come into perfect focus.
Here are two ways to measure your team against that reality.
Trends in Patient Care Outcomes
Health outcomes are functions of information available to care providers. The better a care provider can understand, diagnose and treat a patient’s condition, the more likely a positive outcome will be.
Paul Zakas, senior customer success manager at Komodo Health, says medical affairs teams gain a competitive advantage by understanding whether information delivered to care providers drives more accurate diagnoses over time.
“That’s where the medical affairs team can prove their value in that community,” Zakas writes. “When you reach a provider who treats a certain number of patients, that provider’s baseline number of patients may not have changed, but the health of those accurately diagnosed with a certain disease based on that medical education has improved.”
What you will learn from this metric: Whether the insights your MA team shares are actually influencing patient outcomes.
Depth and Quality of the KOL Relationship
This is another dimension of how medical affairs must meet KOLs with relevant information at the right time. MA professionals who get this right stand a good chance of building long, fruitful relationships with KOLs.
The next step, then, is to assess how well someone like a medical science liaison can nurture that relationship.
“MSLs must provide more than just knowledge,” says Jennifer Vernazza, director of global medical operations at Apellis Pharmaceuticals. “The most successful MSLs are excellent storytellers who can present scientific evidence in a way that tells a story about a new product centered on the patient while also nurturing the physician relationship at the same time.”
Successful MA professionals understand what information a KOL needs to do their own job well, and they know how to deliver that information in a way that speaks to the KOL’s work. Over time, this builds stronger, more meaningful relationships.
What you will learn from this metric: How strong and how reliable the connections are between MA team members and the KOLs with whom they build relationships.