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Building a Medical Insights Ecosystem: helping Medical Affairs achieve its strategic potential

Medical Affairs is going through a great transformation. Omnichannel strategy, digital activation, patient engagement, impact measurement – few of these things were seriously on the radar three or certainly five years ago. Driving them all is a desire to make sure Medical Affairs fulfils its strategic potential. The vision of the Medical Affairs Professional Society is that by 2030, Medical Affairs will have solidified its transition from executional to strategic…to ensure that our science and technologies benefit patients…and deliver value to society.

Underpinning all these things is the need for better data, evidence and insight. So perhaps the biggest transformation required is to embed what you might call a Medical Insights Ecosystem. Such a shift will enable Medical Affairs professionals to not only access and generate best available evidence on what their audiences need, but also understand and act on those insights to drive scientific advancement.

Is it just about insights management?

The idea of putting insights management at the heart of Medical Affairs has been gaining traction for some time. This concept places a significant focus on listening – listening conceptually, to our audiences through the existing interactions we have with them, but also listening practically by developing new techniques to do so. The focus of medical insights management is primarily on insights that can be accessed through traditional activities like AD Boards and MSL engagement or through other naturally occurring data online, through techniques like social listening. These activities are critical and are already happening, but the systematic management and interpretation of this data to generate coherent insights is less common; effectively communicating those insights even less so.

The question is: can we be more proactive in our data collection? At Madano, we’ve been increasingly working with Medical Affairs teams to collect their own bespoke insights about audiences and stakeholders. Can we take it even further and do this collaboratively, engaging physicians and patients as peer researchers to build deeper relationships and gain richer insights and truly be the voice of the patient that Medical Affairs would like to be?

Perhaps it’s best to take it step-by step and walk before trying to run. But there’s a world of social and market research techniques, business intelligence capabilities and other methods that can be applied to collecting medical insights in a compliant way. These actions would expand medical insights management to a Medical Insights Ecosystem, where we not only listen but also generate: actively and collaboratively seeking the answers to the strategic questions that can help us address overall medical objectives and become truly audience-led.

Why is this so important?

There are three main reasons why we believe that the development of an audience-led Medical Insights Ecosystem should underpin the wider strategic transformation of Medical Affairs in the next decade:

  • An increasingly diverse and bombarded audience. For a several years now it’s been clear that the stakeholders and audiences for medical affairs are no longer simply the specialists – it’s a range of other HCPs, policymakers, administrators and, of course, patients. And not only is the audience becoming more diverse, so are the ways in which they want to receive information. To deliver effective audience-led programmes, therefore, we need original and bespoke insights to understand these new audience types, their beliefs and behaviours, and their communications preferences to be able to better tailor scientific narratives.
  • Omnichannel is omnipresent. If medical insights can underpin the transformation of medical affairs, omnichannel is the accompanying overarching strategic framework. Omnichannel doesn’t work without effective audience-led data collection and insight communication – and without a strategic omnichannel approach, communication efforts are not well targeted, creating duplication and inconsistency – just adding to the noise.
  • Measurement for continuous improvement. Linked to omnichannel, is the push to better measure and evaluate the performance of medical affairs. Trying to build frameworks to measure value at the function-level is incredibly tricky. And while a good deal of conceptual thinking is also needed here, without an effective data collection infrastructure, and the skills to interpret and communicate relevant data, we can’t effectively assess the value of what we do.

Tying these three things together will enable Medical Affairs to play the strategic role it should do: championing the authentic patient voice through audience-led communications, and providing cross-functional colleagues with the medical data, insights and narratives to shape their own stories and content.

What are the critical success factors?

Medical Affairs professionals deal with nothing but data don’t they, so what’s new or difficult about this? Of course, clinical data are fundamental to the day job, but the data and insights we’re talking about here are different and often medical affairs professionals are specialists in some types of data but not others. There are three critical success factors to consider:

  • Mindset. This type of data and insight requires a slightly different mindset. The data is imperfect, it’s often partial and it’s always subject to qualifications and confounding factors. We can’t assess the information needs of oncologists and the impact of our communications on those needs through a randomised control trial. To harness the potential of the insights we can gather, learning needs to be viewed as iterative and incremental. And we need to be comfortable with that.
  • Skills and expertise. To support a mindset shift, Medical Affairs functions need to be able to draw on the right skills and expertise. Social researchers, ethnographers, digital analysts, data scientists all have a role to play in helping to understand physicians and patients as people first, with fundamental human beliefs and behaviours. And these experts will themselves need to develop new skills and expertise to understand the need for medical insights and to interpret the data in a way that provides clear direction on what to do next.
  • Structure and Process. Providing an environment in which these skills and expertise will thrive will require structural change. Life sciences companies will need to create not only dedicated insights teams that generate insights for strategic planning, but also actively embed Medical Insights Leaders in strategic planning processes and decision-making.

What does a future Medical Insights Ecosystem look like?

Insights management and insights generation need to work in tandem to build a Medical Insights Ecosystem. Using the full toolbox of social and market research as well as behavioural and data science, this can then drive the three key areas of medical affairs performance:

  • Exploration and discovery: Understand new landscapes, new treatment dynamics, new patient journeys and fundamental beliefs and behaviours
  • Strategy and planning: Drive omnichannel strategy, develop and test audience-led scientific narratives, making the right tactical selection around KOL engagement, publications and MedEd
  • Measurement and learning: Demonstrate value and learn lessons for the future by building in outcome-focused KPIs and measurement, laddered up to medical strategy

This kind of Medical Insights Ecosystem is a critical part of Medical Affairs’ journey toward achieving its strategic potential by 2030. Companies need to demonstrate quickly that this is a strategic priority by taking measures to shift mindsets and create new medical insights roles within a supportive infrastructure. This will not only allow better management of medical insights, but also a flourishing insights ecosystem to drive better patient and scientific outcomes.