The evolution of Medical Affairs has been chronicled for a long time.
Today, Medical Affairs informs pharmaceutical R&D. MA teams amplify the patient voice and can act as the voice of reason during a public health crisis.
This evolution has been a necessary response to the information-rich environments we all live and work in. Like so many other professionals in so many industries, medical affairs professionals operate at the confluence of thousands of data and communication streams. Making sense of all that information is hard work.
This also means that the very mission of medical affairs has changed, says Glenn Carter, owner and managing director of Healthcare Professionals Group. “In the past the function primarily supported other parts of the organisation, focusing on external KOL engagement,” Carter writes.
“Today, Medical Affairs is deeply involved with clinical development strategy, portfolio management, data analysis, evidence generation, and market access planning; and thereby driving the scientific business forward through a range of strategic partnerships.”
In that context, it makes sense to imagine medical affairs as a node within a network. Attached to that node are all relevant stakeholders — e.g. KOLs, healthcare providers, patient advocates — as well as all relevant data sources — e.g. patient advocates again, clinical researchers, databases.
In this model, medical affairs’ role is to nurture that ecosystem of connections, to manage the flow of raw inbound information and to translate that information into actionable intelligence for the people who need it.
Below is a rough sketch of what that ecosystem looks like.
The Big Data Sources (Including Wearables and Smart Devices)
As we have noted before, digital health is a booming sector, and this produces vast quantities of data. This is on top of the big data available from sources like EMRs and claims records. Medical affairs has shouldered much of the work in translating information derived from that data into intelligence that HCPs can use to make better care decisions.
A major new source of that data is the wearables and IoT devices designed for patient use. Each smartwatch or patient monitor represents a new river of analyzable data. This is where tools like artificial intelligence become so important for MA. AI can help scan and analyze large quantities of data from sources like IoT devices — as well as from sources like publications, clinical trials and payer databases.
Crucially, other organizations will by vying for access to some of that data, and they will have their own reasons for doing so. Google, for example, has partnered with major U.S. healthcare systems to collect patient data, McKinsey’s David Champagne, Alex Davidson, Lucy Pérez and David Saunders write. “Healthcare companies should also develop a strategy to address disruption from tech giants and payers—signs of which are already emerging.”
Medical affairs will likely play an important role in those strategies.
Social Media: Vital Links for Information Exchange
No surprise, but social media have emerged as important conduits in this ecosystem. Social media give MA teams a place to:
- Connect with stakeholders.
- Relay information.
- Listen to the experiences and ideas of others.
The last point is crucial because the patient voice is well-represented on social media, for those who know where to look. “You can tell your friends and family about a chronic condition only so many times before they become fatigued and the support you need as a patient with a chronic condition becomes a little harder to come by,” says Dawn Lacallade, chief of social strategy at conversational marketing company LiveWorld.
“So, many of these folks are replacing this over-burdened social support network with social media.”
The Communications Environment Those Connections Foster
Social media could seem too informal for scientific exchange, but it’s precisely the open nature of these media that allow medical affairs teams to build the right mix of strong and weak ties in their networks.
This is important because pharmacology is a complex discipline, and more people benefit from open scientific exchange. As N. Borinshteyn at CMK Select notes, the rapid development of biologics and complex molecules has made some conversations nearly impossible for patients to parse unless they have a degree in the field — or a reliable steward of information to guide the conversation.
“Recognizing this, doctors have realized that they themselves increasingly need in-depth, high-level clinical education. And pharmaceutical companies have responded by moving toward a more informational and scientific approach to product introduction to the market and support.”
This dovetails with another of the industry’s major moves, toward greater patient centricity. As Clare Bates at Page & Page and Partners argues, medical affairs must meet this need for discussion with a marketer’s mindset for getting a message out.
“Better communication rooted in a design mindset does not mean dumbing down the scientific endeavour, rather it makes it possible to get the very best out of the science and for it to land in the most effective way,” Bates writes.
“By forming a thorough and insightful communications strategy based on patient needs, any advancements in efficacy can be matched by improved compliance and concordance.”
Ultimately, then, this approach to communication un-siloes knowledge and creates an environment in which care providers are able to quickly access information they need to deliver better care, Bates says.
Navigating This Information-Rich World
Creating and navigating an ecosystem of free-flowing information is no easy task. There are many dots to connect, and even then the result will be “interconnected journeys” for patients and HCPs, as Lori Lush at Fishawack Medical points out.
Preparing MA professionals to thrive in this environment is a good first step. Astellas EVP and Head of Medical Affairs Charlotte Kremer says this means ensuring those professionals have the fluency, tools and collaborative leeway they need to parse complicated data within the context of health economic models.
“In the past [stakeholder collaboration] was much more inside-out communication of data about our products, but external stakeholders may soon have equal or even more data about our products,” Kremer says. “So working with them to generate this together through collaborative research or big data analysis is key to the success of pharma, and medical affairs can take that on.”
From there, medical affairs can step into its emerging leadership role, one that aligns and supports pharmaceutical product lifecycles and patient journeys. Bedrock Group CEO David Youds describes this in terms of co-leadership, where medical affairs helps guide product strategy alongside other teams.
“The value of this collaborative approach for health systems, and ultimately patients, is huge,” Youds writes.
Youds’ vision is the logical conclusion of how this ecosystem of various data streams, communication channels and network connections work together to, ideally, create patient journeys that lead individual people toward healthier lives.
Images by: Omar Flores, National Cancer Institute, Matheus Ferrero