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Optimizing Outreach: Effective Communication Strategies for Medical Affairs Teams in 2024

As 2024 begins, Medical Affairs (MA) teams find themselves in a still-changing landscape of communication. The rush to digital and remote options in recent years hasn’t ebbed, but a desire for more in-person connection creates tension with the apparent ease of communication that digital channels provide. Ensuring communication strategies for Medical Affairs teams lead to key opinion leader (KOL) engagement has never been more crucial.

MA teams have more communications options than ever before, but not all these options provide equal results. To boost your communication effectiveness in the coming year, embrace these best practices in choosing how, where and with what you reach out to healthcare providers (HCPs). Quality KOL engagement is essential for achieving impactful communication in 2024.

Leverage Contemporary Communication Strategies for Medical Affairs Teams

Historically, the discourse within the medical and life sciences industries has been influenced by the structure and method of delivery. Conventional formats included formal presentations, journal publications, grand rounds, and similar methodologies. Each had a specific set of rules governing format, which influenced the manner in which information was conveyed.

In the contemporary landscape, the proliferation of digital information necessitates the development of innovative content formats. These include modular content, stand-alone content that requires no explanation from a presenter or teacher, and digital-friendly options readily accessible on mobile devices, writes Eddie G.M. Power in a 2023 Pharmaceutical Medicine article.

The evolution in content formats signals a corresponding shift in communication dynamics. “These [formats] all signify a change from the ‘push’ model of communication that biopharma has historically deployed, to a ‘pull’ model where the HCP defines the ‘what, where and how’ of which information to receive,” notes Power.

Tailoring communication formats to audiences based on their generational cohorts can yield notable advantages. In a 2022 study published in Cogent Social Sciences, Sabina C. Heuss, Lukas Zimmerli, and Andres R. Schneeberger examine the medical communication practices of physicians across different generational demographics, shedding light on their information-seeking and communication methodologies.

Heuss et al. note that healthcare professionals belonging to younger generational cohorts, having grown up in an era of instantaneous information accessibility, exhibit a propensity to gather comprehensive data points before arriving at decisions. These individuals possess a keen awareness of their knowledge gaps and actively participate in the knowledge acquisition process.

Conversely, older generations may base their decision-making on their collected knowledge or expertise, displaying a lower inclination to proactively seek out new information, says Ricardo Correa, Program Director for the Endocrinology Fellowship at the University of Arizona.

As generational shifts occur, discernible trends emerge in how HCPs seek and assimilate information. Medical Affairs teams attuned to the evolving landscape can adeptly tailor their message delivery, concentrating on content that resonates specifically with each audience.

Doctor, support and applause in celebration for team unity, healthcare achievement or goal at the hospital. Group of medical professional clapping and celebrating teamwork,  

Provide Targeted Content for Your Specific Audiences

Precision in content selection hinges on recognizing the diverse needs of distinct audiences. Within the realm of healthcare, professionals such as pharmacists, nurses, and physicians all require information from biopharmaceutical companies to fulfill their respective roles. However, the nature of the information sought varies according to the context of their responsibilities.

Pharmacists seek information on drug interactions; nurses need practical insights on how to administer therapies; and physicians may seek information on the mechanisms of a therapy for comparative analysis with alternative options.

For all three parties, a plain language summary (PLS) can provide needed information in an efficient and effective manner, write Marlene Stoll, Martin Kerwer, Klaus Lieb, and Anita Chasiotis in a 2022 article in PLOS ONE. By disseminating these summaries through channels tailored to specific audiences, it ensures that each recipient receives pertinent information in a timely manner.

Plain language communication is a cornerstone of patient-centered care, writes Christina Archer in an article for Nursing Matters. Plain language summaries from Medical Affairs teams can foster patient-centered care by providing an example on which providers, nurses, and other patient-facing medical professionals can build. In some cases, plain language summaries might even be shared directly with patients to foster better adherence to treatment protocols.

Delivering the content that audiences value is imperative; however, many Medical Affairs teams miss the mark here. Rather than offering content their HCPs and KOLs value, these teams often present material that aligns with their own preferences, even when their values don’t align with those of their audiences.

In collaborative efforts with sales and marketing teams, MA teams frequently adopt the perspectives and expectations of these counterparts, notwithstanding the fact that HCPs prioritize alternative information sources.

HCPs place a premium on information from trusted websites as a source of medical information, and many prefer to trust their own online research over a pharmaceutical field representative’s offerings. Additionally, their preference leans towards disease-related information over product-related information, independent and non-promotional education over product talks, and CME-accredited learning over other information sources.

While there is a valid role for product information and pharmaceutical sales teams as information sources, it is evident that MA teams stand to gain by comprehending the specific preferences of their target audiences and investing in content areas aligned with those preferences. Medical Affairs teams that strategically align with the content HCPs seek are more apt to establish robust and enduring relationships with these audiences over time.

healthcare professionals meeting 

Open the Right Communication Channels to Engage Providers

The surge in digital communications over recent years has led to a corresponding rush to digital platforms by Medical Affairs and communications teams, writes Colin Aldridge, a director at healthcare investment bank TripleTree. These platforms allow MA teams to streamline their communication processes, monitor team involvement in projects, track engagement with providers and Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), and more.

Digital platforms also allow MA teams to move toward an omnichannel approach, enabling the integration of various communication channels for consistent brand and information messaging. Omnichannel approaches offer enhanced utilization of data, content, and technological tools in the delivery of communications, write Stephen Jones, Heather Bennett and Agustin Ramirez in a PMLive article.

While there is a palpable eagerness among Medical Affairs, healthcare professionals, and KOLs to return to in-person interactions post-pandemic, the premature abandonment of video and other digital connections may jeopardize relationships rather than strengthen them.

For example, MA teams can foster communication with KOLs and HCPs regardless of geographic barriers if they do so digitally. Using video to communicate with KOLs on a bimonthly basis has allowed both the MA teams at Adial Pharmaceuticals and their KOLs to build stronger relationships, says Cary Claiborne, CEO of Adial Pharmaceuticals.

Digital communication channels, encompassing videoconferencing, email, and shared digital platforms, offer valuable engagement opportunities with KOLs, irrespective of their digital presence. Even KOLs with limited online visibility can derive benefits from a shared digital space, providing them with relevant information from MA teams and a platform to contribute to pivotal discussions. The right channels can also help KOLs organize the deluge of information they face, which can lead to better engagement and deeper insights, writes Deepak Patil, Senior Director of Medical Strategy at Aktana.

In some ways, MA’s communication options are broader than ever before. With this panoply of choices come challenges. Which formats, content, and channels are the best options to reach healthcare providers? To communicate with KOLs?

By employing a few best practices, Medical Affairs teams can make informed choices, resulting in more effective communication, seamless knowledge sharing, and strengthened collaboration with providers, KOLs, and other key stakeholders.

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