New Ways of Engaging Healthcare Providers

Josh Pirtle
Feb 9, 2021

The question how Medical Affairs teams of pharmaceutical companies and particularly Medical Science Liaisons can better engage healthcare providers (HCPs) in general and key opinion leaders (KOLs) in particular with modern technologies is one of ongoing discussion in the industry.

While it is easy to have grand visions about the use of virtual advisory board meetings, chat bots that answer HCPs questions in real time and AI based learning tools, the reality is somewhat less glamorous and futuristic.

Yet, modern technology is changing the ways MSLs engage healthcare providers and will continue to do so.

Why do we need new ways of engaging HCPs?

Changes to the way healthcare is delivered create a need for new communication channels and new ways of engaging HCPs. Over the last 20 years or so the industry as a whole has shifted away from private practice physicians towards physician groups. According to a Physicians Foundation survey the percentage of physicians who identify as independent practice owners or partners has declined from 48.5% in 2012 to 31.4% in 2018. At the same time the percentage of physicians identifying as hospital or medical group employees as increased from 43.7% to 49.1%. Engaging HCPs in a medical group has the advantage that an MSL can reach out to several physicians at a time, but the HCPs generally have less time, especially if they have split academic and clinical responsibilities.

Not a new problem, but one that needs addressing, is keeping doctors in remote locations up to date. Without virtual technology these doctors often have to wait weeks or maybe even months before an MSL can make the trip to discuss the latest data.

The internet has become integral to how doctors practice medicine

The internet has been around for a couple of decades now and therefore isn’t really new technology anymore. During that time, it has managed to become an important and integral tool for doctors in their daily practice. The ability to access information on demand, especially in form of videos, is a compelling characteristic of the Internet. Also, with increasing usage of electronic medical records, physicians, even less tech savvy ones, are getting more accustomed to performing tasks online.

The internet also is setting the expectation that information is accessible in real time, an expectation that MSLs, as sources of relevant information, have to increasingly live up to.

Two ways of utilizing technologies in HCP – MSL interactions

Technologies can be used in two different ways:

Facilitating Remote Interactions

Technology can be used to facilitate remote interactions, such as virtual advisory boards, online meetings and instant messaging. Remote interactions have increased over the last years, e.g. according to a benchmark study 83% of companies conduct virtual advisory board meetings, although not very frequently: 79% of all ad board meetings are still conducted in person. And while it is great for a KOL to be able to text an MSL with questions, it can be a bit of a mixed blessing for the MSL: answering questions in real time at 11 pm isn’t necessarily good for work-life balance.

There are additional considerations that come into play when dealing remotely with KOLs, specifically:

·       concerns around compliance and security of remote interactions,

·       issues with technology working properly. Who hasn’t attended a virtual meeting where dialing in seemed to require a Ph.D. in computer science and once that task was accomplished, part of the participants where barely audible?

·       All that technology also requires a lot of upfront investment and ongoing upkeep, plus a very good working relationship with the IT department so problems with the vital remote communication technology will be fixed quickly.

·       Also, not everybody really has a knack for technology, both on the MSL and the KOL side, and all that investment might encounter a lukewarm “we gave it a try, but it didn’t work well”.

Enhancing face to face interactions

Digital technologies can be used to enhance personal interactions between an MSL and a KOL. As the amount of data and information available grows at breathtaking rates – medical knowledge is projected to double every 73 days by 2020 – it is critical for MSLs to be able to present KOLs targeted answers to specific questions. The “one slide deck fits all” days are over and instead personalized slide decks and real time access to centralized digital libraries with (approved) content an MSL can draw from to address an HCPs specific question, are required.

Tablets are a very established tool for field medical personnel with 93% reporting in 2015 that they use tablets for their work. Instead of using tablets only as a handy device to display a ready presentation adding the following capabilities increases the value both MSLs and KOLs can get out of the meeting:

·       Enabling the MSL to annotate presentations during their visits to capture KOL feedback, thoughts and input directly.

·       Providing a way for KOLs to interact with the tablet to make discussions more collaborative and relevant for the KOL.

The use of technology and percentage of remote interactions between MSLs and KOLs will continue to increase and while the future might hold chat bots for everybody and glitchless remote meetings, making good use of tablets and having quick access to specific answers to a KOLs targeted question can add a lot of value to MSL – KOL discussions today.