Medical affairs teams work tirelessly to disseminate important information and clinical trial developments. They want to make sure the research gets into the hands of key opinion leaders. This isn’t always an easy process. While MA teams can contact influencers and executives, they can’t always keep their attention or fully communicate the weight of the information.
For MA teams to increase their effectiveness, they need a plan to measure the impact of their communication efforts. Follow this guide to learn more about setting qualitative goals and striving to improve your information distribution.
Understand the Limits of Quantitative Data
Over the past decade, MA teams have worked to embrace data-driven decision-making. With this model, there is a data point for every question and the numbers never lie. However, as more teams use data analytics to track their MA efforts, they are starting to see its limits.
A dashboard of metrics doesn’t necessarily provide a clear picture of value. These high-level executive overviews are pleasant to look at and easy to create, but don’t highlight the relationships formed and the value MA teams provide. Quantitative metrics without qualitative analysis can make for incomplete reporting.
To get an idea of what it means to add context to quantitative interactions, consider the survey by the Medical Science Liaison Society (MSLS) on the effects of COVID-19 on the industry.
When asked how long engagements with key opinion leaders (KOLs) typically last, only 14.3 percent of medical liaisons say their interactions last more than 30 minutes. Almost two-thirds (63.4 percent) of MSLs spent less time with KOLs with virtual meetings than in-person ones. While a medical affairs team can point to the effectiveness of Skype from a quantitative perspective (saving money on travel while increasing the number of KOL interactions), the data from this survey raises the question of whether these interactions actually provide long-term value.
As MA teams strive for improvement, leaders within the field are developing ways to track qualitative interactions.
“A department like MA doesn’t have easy metrics like approvals or regulatory approvals, as our development colleagues do, or increase in revenue or market share, as our marketing colleagues do, so we need to think harder than any other department in pharma about the qualitative impact of all we do,” says Charlotte Kremer, EVP of medical affairs at Astellas Pharma.
There certainly is a place for data in medical affairs. However, these data points need to be paired with a communication strategy that focuses on quality information distribution.
Target the Right People
The first step in improving your quality interactions with KOLs is to target the right people. The roles of stakeholders keep changing, which means your time is wasted by reaching out to irrelevant influencers. MSLs might engage with a variety of different influencers, from regulators to patient advocacy groups. Targeting key stakeholders within these influencer lists can get messy.
By taking time to engage with the right KOLs, medical affairs teams can improve their qualitative and quantitative data. They will have better results during meetings by communicating with KOLs who actively want to hear from them.
“Global Medical needs to work with the right expert on the right science,” says Michelle Warner, global director of medical engagement at GSK. “When engaging with KOLs for a paid service, (1:1 consultancy/advice-seeking/media work etc.), we must ensure the end-to-end experience is positive.”
Accurate KOL targeting also increases the chances of future success, as these stakeholders will have a positive view of your MA team.
Create Individual Communication Strategies
Once your team has a clear understanding of who to reach out to to share medical information with, they can work to create targeted engagement plans for these influencers.
“A KOL engagement plan is an important component of KOL management in the company, as it describes how the company should deal with KOLs and provides a comprehensive picture that both KOLs and employees can count on,” says Marco Giannecchini, global senior medical affairs consultant.
Your KOL plan can cover communication preferences, time to reach out to influencers, and how they best like to review medical information. Instead of expecting each KOL to conform to your communication plan, you adjust your methods to their preferences.
“Mapping a dynamic engagement plan for each KOL is critically important to ensuring success in your identification efforts,” says Rob Spalding, chief strategy and marketing officer of DWA Healthcare Communications. “This plan could capture things such as: a KOL’s specific area of focus, the number and types of engagements, timing of engagements, and how to communicate with each KOL. Once you have a strong plan, determine how you will keep up with it, holding yourself and teammates accountable to working it.”
Evaluate Interactions and Conversations
The next level when engaging with KOLs is evaluating the qualitative elements of the conversations you have. It’s easy to track the number of minutes on a phone call or the total number of KOL touches. However, it’s harder to understand whether an influencer really listened to your message and internalized the information.
“Truly effective KOL engagement involves ongoing dialogue and consultation,” says Karen Lipworth, communications strategist at The Difference Collective, a healthcare communications agency. “Assess their reactions, request their advice, seek their impressions, invite their predictions, encourage their own questions.”
One concept that is popular in the business-to-business sales field is conversation intelligence. This is the process of evaluating conversations with leads to measure how receptive they were to the message.
“Conversation Intelligence Tools not only give you insights from the call records, but they share the actionable data,” says Ashish Santhalia, cofounder of conversation intelligence platform Convin. “With the use of Artificial Intelligence, you get actual semantics of the call.”
Quantitative data might cover the number of calls with KOLs and their length, but conversation analytics can highlight metrics like the talk-to-listen ratio, or how much a medical liaison speaks instead of the influencer. These tools can also pick up on tone and certain keywords to better understand objections or issues with the information.
MA teams can also use conversational intelligence to coach other team members and provide feedback on conversations. This makes conversations with KOLs more effective as a whole.
While a chief medical affairs officer can’t listen to every KOL conversation, they can turn qualitative experiences into quantitative data and provide actionable insights for improvement.
Improvement is a Continual Process
While your organization can use qualitative strategies to connect with KOLs, these analytics are only valuable if your team acts on them. How are you turning insights into steps for improvement?
“Continuously fine tune the goals and improve the metrics in order to further strengthen the value of the medical organization,” says Luca Dezzani, vice president of medical affairs at Eisai. “Defining and tracking KPIs with the only goal of measuring the contribution of medical affairs is a big missed opportunity. The best way to fully leverage the potential of this process is to ensure it will make the medical team better and better over time.”
- Demand for qualitative insights is increasing. As the medical affairs team grows in importance, members within the industry will need to showcase how they engage with KOLs and why these engagements are effective.
“As the healthcare environment continues to evolve, it has never been more important for medical affairs professionals to identify areas in which we directly and indirectly support appropriate treatment decisions on behalf of patients,” says Robert J. Matheis, president and CEO at the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals. “It can often be challenging to measure true impact, so surrogates of value can provide a means for modeling the expected value that scientific and medical information has on patient care.”
Every conversation that medical affairs teams have can have real-world impacts on the lives of patients. Both your qualitative and quantitative data should work to ensure the medical information you have reaches the best possible people and is memorable. This is how your clinical trial breakthroughs become industry-leading treatments.
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