Medical Science Liaison (MSL) teams in the pharma industry were already at the limit pre-Covid. Products were complex, wider engagement from healthcare professionals (HCPs) was expected as standard, and Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) that MSLs needed to engage were time pressed.
Now, due to Covid-shortened timelines, the pressure is intensifying. As pharma companies look to expand, increase their product offering and reach new markets, many are struggling to digitally upskill their teams without overloading them.
Digitally engaged teams have become essential. The old face-to-face model was inefficient prior to Covid – and now seems even less so. KOLs are still time-poor and unable to engage in one-off, inflexible meetings. Virtual engagement with MSLs is expected and now common practice.
MSLs have always needed a range of skills to do their job. From scientific acumen to business leadership via communication and soft skills, it’s their job to stay ahead of the game. Upskilling with digital capabilities may not come naturally, so how can field medical teams ensure they’re staying on top, both in terms of outputs and efficiencies?
Upskilling opportunity costs
Upskilling a team can incur hard costs, but the biggest barrier is perhaps time. The longer the training and onboarding process for MSLs takes, the more delayed is their ability to make an impact in the field through scientific exchange.
Diverting an employee from their normal duties for days or weeks to learn a new set of complex digital skills is a sacrifice many companies can’t afford. Although there’s little doubt about the long-term benefits, the short-term time crunch isn’t an option for all.
Training time is needed for three main reasons: education, implementation, and accreditation. Education on the solution, training on how to implement the solution, and accreditation to drive standardisation and predictability of outcomes. These three elements, together, have one primary consequence – a large time investment.
Pharma needs a solution. Post-Covid, 66% of the 475 KOLs surveyed by the MSL Society reported their preference in using virtual engagement tools over traditional face-to-face visits from MSLs. Trends such as this are driving pharma toward digital capabilities at an accelerating pace.
Digital platforms for asynchronous engagement
To engage multiple KOLs on a repeated basis, on their time schedules, across the globe, regular in-person meetings are no longer practical. Instead, MSL teams should leverage modern virtual engagement platforms that support asynchronous engagement – an always-on engagement format that allows those participating to input their insights in their own time.
Such platforms are designed to be highly intuitive and don’t require intense technical training to successfully deploy and use. MSLs don’t need to worry about taking days out of work to train and upskill with new digital capabilities. Instead, pharma companies can easily add digital interaction capabilities to their team, whilst engagement design, content upload, and post-engagement reporting is led by the platform vendor.
The result is increased output through advanced digital capabilities, and time saved on the training. The benchmarks shouldn’t just be cost and time, however, but the efficiency and effectiveness of the engagement process that allows MSLs to stay ahead of the game whilst developing and strengthening relationships with KOLs.
Engaging KOLs is the bread and butter of field-based medical teams. The gold standard for MSLs includes quality engagement that promotes scientific exchange, gathers meaningful insights, and forms a trustworthy relationship that allows for repeated engagement over time.
Through advancing the capabilities of an MSL team via a digital platform, MSLs can reap the benefits of a digitally-focused output with minimal time investment. This allows a ready-made network of KOLs who not only engage with each other but are connected to a now-empowered MSL. Additionally, questions can be set and standardised across multiple regions or even countries to generate a larger data set, but a local touch is retained due to the multiple regional groups of participating KOLs.
Engaging external experts on their own terms enables MSLs to improve the quality and efficiency of the insights gathered. Barriers to global collaboration can be reduced, as KOLs in Asia will no longer be required to be on the same timeline as those in South America. This more stakeholder-centric approach facilitates greater sharing of insights and opinions in their own time and drives a more inclusive peer-to-peer exchange of scientific information.
Adding digital capabilities to MSL teams doesn’t need to involve intense or time-consuming technical training. By adding access to a virtual engagement platform which comes with dedicated, experienced project team support, pharma companies can instantly increase the digital capabilities of their MSL teams without adding workload, and reap the rewards sooner thanks to a more streamlined, efficient engagement process.
 2020 KOL preferences to engage with MSLs during COVID-19 Pandemic survey, https://www.themsls.org/covid-19-kol-engagement-survey/