Medical Affairs Digitization
Originally published at PharmaExec
The COVID pandemic gave a boost to digital medical affairs initiatives. For leading medical affairs teams, it was an accelerant to a process that started long before COVID. The crisis served to fuel changes to customer engagement mindsets, processes, and systems that had been in the works for years.
For many other teams, COVID created a sense of urgency that wasn’t there before and prompted increased experimentation with digital technologies such as virtual meetings, digital congress activity and remote MSL engagement. While these activities were important in priming a digital engagement mindset and behaviors, they are not a substitute for the systematic transformation of leading organizations required to create lasting change.
This article looks at some of the barriers we have seen at different stages of Medical Affairs digitization and opportunities to close the gap between promise and progress. We look at obstacles in both planning and implementation.
Visualize what “good” (experiences) look like
Medical affairs teams are traditionally staffed with science, medical information, and health outcomes experts, but not digital transformation experts. To engineer high-quality customer experiences common in the consumer world, med affairs teams must internalize what “good” looks like to their customers, and what it means to their responsibilities. Important actions to prime teams for better customer experiences include:
- Showcase case studies of exceptional experiences outside of pharma and highlighting what makes them good, and expose best practice customers experiences from pharma digital medical affairs leaders
- Educate on digital concepts such as “human-centered design”, “customer journeys”, “content marketing”, “ecosystems”, “personalization” and “omni-channel marketing”
- Embed customer journey and service design techniques into tactical planning
- Work in cross-functional teams to map out content and service experiences around key customer moments and needs
- Expose the organization to new tools and innovations in customer experience
Develop a cohesive plan & put first things first
Many teams are seduced by new vendor technologies exposed at tradeshows. They end up making investments in tools without a proper customer engagement plan in place. What’s needed is a cohesive plan of action to guide investments. A good plan:
- Selects the customer “moments” and the therapeutic areas that will be prioritized (informed by customer research and business needs)
- Chooses tactics best aligned to those moments, considering from the full palette of opportunities, such as virtual congress interactions, medical information services, digital opinion leader activation, remote MSL engagement, disease education ecosystems, and digital health tools
- Defines project outcomes in terms of how the experience will change for customers
- Maps out delivery into “crawl”, “walk”, “run” releases, with a focus on high-impact, high feasibility experiences first
- Defines the expected impact on the business
Sustain the “burning platform”
With the pandemic waning in some areas, sustaining digital transformation momentum is paramount. Change agents should continue to highlight the benefits of closing the gap in virtual interactions desired by health care providers, including live webcasts, virtual two-way peer to peer discussions and on-demand content.1
To sustain momentum, be sure to:
- Monitor and communicate shifting customer preferences for medical affairs interactions, including channel and content topic and format preferences
- Define and track performance metrics and goals tied to quality and volume of engagement to quantify the benefits of changes over the status quo
- Measure satisfaction trends around Medical Affairs customer-centricity
- Benchmark digital activities of comparative organizations
Navigate internal silos and restrictions
Customers do not care about functional departments when interacting with biopharmaceutical companies; they care that they get the information or support they require. Yet, when designing customer experiences, departmental silos2 often get in the way of a seamless experience. Sometimes Medical Affairs teams are limited by a restrictive vision of their responsibilities which prevents necessary participation in planning end-to-end experiences or designing content in multiple formats or standing up new channels. Additionally, Medical affairs teams often struggle interpreting restrictions around proactive versus reactive communications in the context of multi-channel engagement.
To overcome this issue, medical affairs change agents must:
- Embrace digital customer experience as a key part of its responsibilities, especially as it relates to disease education, off-label medical information, and content that supports optimal patient care
- Take steps to update legal and regulatory guidelines related to digital content
- Work cross-functionally across Medical Information, MSLs, and IT to plan and execute seamless experiences.
- Empower leaders with expertise in omni-channel customer experience
Don’t forget change management
Digital transformations are large scale change initiatives, yet many organizations treat them as a series of one-off projects and add-on responsibilities to already busy teams. As a result, the projects don’t get the traction they should. To maximize adoption, recommendations include:
- Assess the organization’s capacity to change, recognizing that change is disruptive
- Identify sponsors across multiple parts of the organization and ensure they understand their role and have the relevant skills3
- Establish governance within Medical Affairs and across other departments to communicate, align and create momentum around projects
- Ensure projects are properly resourced in terms of time, capacity, and financial resources
- Consider a program management office to accelerate execution
- Monitor and address resistance with frequent check-ins
Nurture a culture of customer-centric innovation
The Medical Affairs function is arguably more important now than ever as companies launch more specialized and complex products requiring education and translation of medical information into practical insights to support clinical decision-making and demonstrate value. In this environment customers will expect medical affairs teams to be purveyors of high-quality content and services which are delivered through personalized, virtual interactions in a variety of live and on-demand formats.