Encouraging stakeholder engagement is an important part of any organization. However, it requires a carefully planned strategy that factors in continuous improvements.
For pharma companies, medical affairs (MA) teams are tasked with this important role. To succeed in improving engagement with all the relevant stakeholders — both internal and external — MA teams must adapt to the needs of their stakeholders and effectively communicate their messages.
Discover what the current landscape means for MA teams and how they can maximize key partnerships with stakeholders.
Connect With Broader Audiences
Historically, medical affairs teams had a relatively niche audience to win over in their stakeholder engagement strategies. Experts are now starting to see a change. Today, medical science liaisons (MSLs) communicate with healthcare providers (HCPs) in addition to benefits managers, insurance companies, large-scale hospital systems, and key opinion leaders (KOLs) throughout the medical field.
“[…] MA has adapted to engage a broader range of stakeholders, including medical societies, payers, patient advocacy groups, and more,” write Mary Lee et al. at Blue Matter Consulting. “[…] As this trend will continue into the future, MA leaders must be prepared to meaningfully engage this increasingly large and complex stakeholder landscape to establish mutually beneficial partnerships.”
This expansion has been noticeable for multiple years, but industry leaders are now starting to see meaningful changes as medical affairs professionals step into this growing role.
“Nowadays, Medical Affairs is becoming better and better able to measure the impact of its activities, which is driving teams to re-evaluate how they collaborate – and how they contribute to the organization as a whole,” says Scott Thompson, Co-Chief Executive Officer at Acceleration Point. “They’re broadening their role across various segments of the medical community, as well as gaining traction and greater importance within the C-suite.”
This could be a good thing for the field of medical affairs. Larger audiences can provide additional opportunities to get noticed. Still, MSLs need to be prepared for increased noise from other parties who are also trying to get the attention of these stakeholders.
Personalize Messaging and Improve Emotional Engagement
MA teams will need to consider the various sources of information available to them and evaluate how they can use this data to tell a story. Communicating with stakeholders will require unique hooks that engage the people they are trying to reach along with personalized messaging that relates specifically to their pain points.
“Another emerging challenge in data dissemination/communication is the dichotomy of integrating multiple sources of information into a coherent medical narrative and single scientific voice, and then being able to break this narrative apart to offer personalized medical engagement across multiple platforms to audiences with varying informational needs,” according to the Medical Affairs Professional Society (MAPS) in The Future of Medical Affairs 2030.
MA teams have access to more data and analytics sources than ever before, and that’s a good thing. However, a lot of information alone isn’t useful. Teams will need to consider how they condense, present, and personalize this information from one KOL to the next.
In fact, the concept of “scientific storytelling,” has become an increasingly popular buzzword over the past few years among MSLs. As Simone Rebora at Janssen explains, storytelling “provides a shortcut to understanding, which is a powerful and necessary tool at a time when there is a lot of pressure on our healthcare systems and we want patients to make correct and informed choices in the easiest way possible.”
Rebora notes that decision-making is inherently emotional. Even the most logical humans can be swayed by emotions and healthcare is an emotional field — for both patients and HCPs. Scientific storytelling is one way to take the masses of data that MSLs have access to and present it in a clear, meaningful manner.
Work With External Stakeholders From the Beginning
There’s a growing shift away from presenting stakeholders with completed ideas and products and instead working with them throughout the drug development process. This increases buy-in from stakeholders who can watch their real-world problems turn into clinical trials while also creating excitement around a potential treatment option early on.
“Engaging with patients and healthcare providers throughout the drug development process can help pharmaceutical companies design clinical trials that better reflect ‘real-world’ situations and this could also help companies in identifying unmet needs and develop drugs that address them,” says Tommaso Salanitri, Country Medical Director and Compliance Officer at Ferring Pharmaceuticals.
This form of communication makes stakeholders feel valued and included in the process. They are viewed less as customers who need to buy products and more as insightful leaders guiding clinical trial teams toward solutions.
“There’s something very important from the healthcare provider’s perspective or from the patient advocate’s perspective about feeling consulted in a more regular manner,” says Amy Ravi, CEO of ExtendMed. “It conveys that they are valuable participants in that treatment paradigm.”
Unfortunately, this form of stakeholder engagement isn’t something that a single medical affairs specialist can start practicing on their own. It requires complete buy-in from the organization to operate on the principle of transparency in order to drive the best results.
“Adopting an innovative mindset…helps free leaders from constraints of legacy thinking around functional design and the traditional go-it-alone mentality,” write Suma Ramadas and Arshi Gupta at Syneos Health.
Streamline Your Communications Efforts
Industries across healthcare and the professional world are constantly challenged to do more with less, and the field of medical affairs is no different. Rather than viewing this as a belt-tightening exercise, MA teams can identify ways to operate more effectively and as a unified front.
“[…] Numerous organizations are now centralizing and automating essential Medical Affairs operations, including management of medical inquiries, communications, and content generation,” explain Kurt Conger and Ming Shen at Deloitte Consulting LLP.
In Deloitte’s Medical Affairs benchmark study, they found that 80 percent of medical inquiries are managed by a “globally harmonized management system,” rather than handled by local markets. Additionally, 25 percent of respondents say they are currently moving toward a more centralized model.
Other surveys highlight how this trend is unique to or more pronounced in the world of medical affairs than traditional marketing departments. One report by L.E.K. Consulting directly compared the field of medical affairs communications to commercial marketing. They found 83% of biopharma respondents expect to increase their medical communications functions in the next three years (compared to 74% for commercial marketing).
“[This is] likely reflecting the challenges of educating stakeholders on complex products and the increasing requirements to demonstrate value and gain reimbursement,” the report says.
Know How Stakeholders Search for Information
Medical affairs teams need to know how HCPs and other KOLs search for data on their own. This can allow them to share and publish easily accessible information that is valuable to medical providers and can create a pipeline for communication.
According to the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs (ACMA), 88 percent of HCPs (out of more than 500 surveyed) search for medical information once per week. Their top three websites for information include Medscape, UpToDate, and company-specific pages and portals.
Internet searches outpaced “[…] medical literature databases (Pubmed and MEDLINE), prescribing labels, and professional literature […]” as the top source for information. These systems were considered difficult to use and challenging to find specific information.
Like any industry, MA teams need to go where their KOLs are. Understanding the user behavior of HCPs can help medical affairs teams make their information more searchable so it reaches a broader audience.
Track How Stakeholder Engagement is Changing
Change is the only consistent element of medical affairs. The field continues to evolve to meet the changing needs of HCPs, pharmaceutical companies, and other key stakeholders in the medical field.
“As external stakeholders, including members of the medical community and healthcare system, advocate for unbiased scientific knowledge and real-world evidence to support clinical decision-making, the role of medical affairs teams has adapted to fit the new framework,” writes the editorial staff at Pharma News Intelligence,
Stakeholders see the value of medical affairs but need to know the information provided to them is objective and reliable. This requirement is actually driving MSLs to take on more of a relationship-building role in order to build trust, rather than stepping into the sales and marketing aspects of the profession.
“We are living during a time frame of paradigm shift from an environment dominated by commercial and marketing interest towards a new dimension, in which medical knowledge and patient centricity become the core purpose, with a positive impact on commercialization as a secondary effect, only,” says Manolo Ernesto Beelke, Chief Medical Officer at Verum.
Authenticity and relationship building will play a key role in medical affairs in the coming years. Teams might start to have more meaningful discussions with stakeholders so they can continue to provide value in the long run.
There are times when the trends in MA stakeholder engagement might seem contradictory. How can you continue to automate and streamline information while also investing in scientific storytelling and personalized engagement? There is a significant amount of give and take in the MA field. Teams are looking to optimize communication where they can in order to free up time for greater stakeholder engagement. These strategies are all about working smarter, not harder, to drive better results for everyone involved.
Anju can help support medical affairs teams, including medical science liaisons, with KOL engagement and managing the KOL life cycle. With a tool like Anju’s TA Scan CRM, you can easily identify new KOLs, draw their engagement strategy, and follow up with both new and known KOLs in a clean and consistent way.
Post updated 8/8/23. Originally published 1/28/2020.
Images used under license from Shutterstock.com.