A Different Approach and a Wider Scope: Equitable Healthcare Starts with Medical Affairs

Ariel Katz

April 17, 2020

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Because they serve as the bridge between research and commercial functions of life sciences companies, medical affairs can drive equity in clinical trials by proactively engaging with a diverse set of medical professionals that represent patient populations, community needs and social determinants of health. 

A Different Approach and a Wider Scope

With the FDA’s recent regulations on clinical trial diversity requirements, the responsibility for diversity, closing care gaps and creating a more equitable healthcare ecosystem no longer falls solely on the shoulders of providers, payers and even clinical trials. It’s everyone’s responsibility, including medical affairs. And if we are being honest, it’s where it should start. 

For too long, there has been a tendency to only target and engage with top academic medical centers and top key opinion leaders (KOLs) at these centers, but medical affairs should strive to communicate with professionals truly representative of the patients that physicians serve. One of the most effective ways to do this is by working closely with patient advocacy groups (PAGs).

Start with Patient Advocates 

PAGs are nonprofit organizations that provide patient- and caregiver-oriented education, advocacy, and support services. By working with PAGs, medical affairs teams can ensure that more people with socioeconomic barriers to enrolling in clinical trials can take part in them. PAGs help bring more patient perspectives to the conversation—on living with a certain condition, motivating factors for enrolling in a trial in the first place, and how to better empathize with certain populations and meet their needs.

After teaming up with the right PAGs, medical affairs will be in a better position to promote equity at every stage of the clinical trial process. With assistance from PAGs, medical affairs should: 

  • Provide trial resources in multiple languages that reflect the demographics of a region, and work with interpreters to encourage the participation and retention of people with limited English proficiency.

  • Research the demographics of a region to establish clinical trial sites in locations with higher concentrations of racial and ethnic minority patients, as well as indigenous populations.

  • Keep diversity in mind when selecting healthcare providers and study coordinators – participants may prefer engaging with professionals from similar cultural backgrounds.

  • Consider ways to ease the burdens of a planned visit schedule. Allow flexibility in appointment windows, consider deploying mobile medical professionals to visit participants, and reduce the frequency of study visits by using electronic communication and telehealth tools whenever possible.

  • Hold recruitment events often and during evenings and weekends when more people have time to enroll. Consider using nonclinical venues like theaters and barbershops to engage with diverse populations and people with limited internet access.

As Common As a Carbon Footprint 

I hope in a very near future, diversity in clinical trials will be as important a factor as a company’s carbon footprint. There will be specific metrics and goals to ensure the promotion of health equity and diversity not just in clinical studies, but also in education and in the medicine being created. We are already seeing pharma and medical device companies, many of whom are H1 customers, starting to make health equity a top priority, which is very heartening. 

New, dynamic technologies are key to facilitating medical affairs’ role in supporting an inclusive and diverse healthcare ecosystem. H1’s comprehensive healthcare database provides MSLs with access to replete information about physicians and the populations they are serving, accelerating the push towards a healthier and more equitable future.

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