In principle we all agree: to operate successfully every function in an organization needs a strategic plan which spells out goals and objectives and ties employees’ performance measures to that strategy. Field medical teams are no exception.
In fact, there is an argument to be made that it is especially critical for medical affairs in general and field medical in particular to create and communicate strategic plans that align with the overall objectives of the company and to develop performance indicators that support that strategic plan. As a well-established function that has taken on a more prominent role over the last decade, medical affairs still face an ongoing challenge: while cost is easy to document, proving its value to the organization remains difficult. The same is true for the individual MSL, they are an expensive resource whose often quantitative performance measures make it difficult to gage their impact.
In our recent webinar “The Importance of Field Medical Strategic Planning” co-produced by the Medical Science Liaison Society and Monocl, Davida White, US Oncology Field Medical Alignment Director at Merck and Robert Groebel, VP of Global Medical Strategy at Monocl discussed how a field medical plan can help medical science liaisons improve engagement with their customers and prove value to the organization.
Meaningful expert engagement requires a strategic plan
A survey of 229 MSLs registered for the webinar revealed that 36% had never seen or reviewed the field medical strategic plan for the product they support and 6% answered that they had no idea what a field medical strategic plan was. With that 42% of the global MSLs we surveyed effectively fly blind.
The first part of the panel focused on the question of why a strategic plan is mission critical for field medical and identified three major reasons. A field medical strategic plan:
- provides guidance and a roadmap for an MSL’s interactions with external experts and serves as the guide they can use to build engagement plans. Without knowing the strategic plan that reflects the company’s objectives MSLs cannot engage experts in meaningful discussions. The plan helps to MSLs to translate strategic imperatives to into action in their geographies and drives outcomes consistent with the company’s overall direction and goals.
Any activity that engages external experts is an utter waste of their and your time if you have no plan and are not aligned with the strategy of company.Samuel Dyer, CEO MSL Society
- enables medical affairs in general and field medical in particular to demonstrate their value by tying their activities back to the overarching goals of the organization.
- ensures alignment of field medical with stakeholders in medical affairs and the broader organization.
Elements of a successful strategic plan
The field medical strategic plan is a critical part of every organization. For it to be a useful tool, it has to fulfil a number of criteria:
- Flexible - a flexible and dynamic plan can be quickly adjusted as MSLs gain new insights that shape the company’s overall goals or approach. In addition, flexibility gives MSLs the option to make changes if the experts’ needs and interest change over time in the dynamic healthcare environment.
- Informed – by the needs, preferences and expectations of external experts. Addressing experts’ unmet scientific needs is an important driver of engagement, the field medical strategic plan has to provide information and guidance and enable field medical to deliver data and science that fill that need.
- Collaborative - strategic plans can’t be developed and implemented in a vacuum, successful plans requires collaboration with medical affairs leadership and alignment with the company’s corporate strategy and strategic imperative.
- Specific – the field medical plan is a roadmap for MSLs that lays out what they need to achieve and how that ties back to the goals of the organization. A successful plan needs to contain enough detail for the MSL to understand what is expected from them.
The value of a carefully crafted strategic plan cannot be overstated, it allows the field team to deliver science tailored to each expert rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach and provides medical affairs with a way to demonstrate value to the organization.
As an MSL leader one of the things we what we struggle with most is to continue to show value. MSL teams are expensive and for some people medical affairs is still a mystery. Stop playing a supportive role and lead with a strategic plan!Davida White, US Oncology Field Medical Alignment Director, Merck
For the individual MSL a strategic plan is crucial to demonstrating their impact - and it is also a bit of an “insurance policy”.
You write a plan and show it to your boss, once it is agreed upon you can now go out and deliver against those stated goals. It is like an insurance policy, you can point to the plan and say: I have done what we agreed to!Robert Groebel, VP of Global Medical Strategy
Lack of strategic planning results in misalignment with the rest of the organization and makes the task of proving the value of medical affairs harder. Insight gathering will also be impacted: without a plan in mind, how can an MSL have conversations with experts that result in meaningful insights?
Elements of a strategic plan
The term “strategic plan” may sound grand and somewhat intimidating, but it essentially is a roadmap that directs MSLs towards the goal.
Here is a short audio clip of Davida White discussing the information this roadmap should contain.
Qualitative KPIs that align
Field medical has long been assessed based on predominantly quantitative measures, such as number of expert interactions, days in the field, number of scientific presentations or insights collected and passed back to the organization. While these quantitative measures have the big of advantage of being – well – easy to collect and quantify, they are better suited to assess short-term effects rather than the long-term outcomes MSLs focus on. To tell the whole story of field medical’s success, qualitative measures that are aligned with the strategic plan are required.
Our panel suggests the following qualitative KPIs:
- Medical insights collected by the MSL and shared in a way that are impactful and drive change. Insights best show what the field medical team is doing and how they contribute to the organization.
- Expert feedback using regular surveys to capture whether an MSL understands the experts’ needs and meets them. If specific objectives for expert engagement have been captured in the strategic plan, assessing how well an MSL delivered against those expectations is a strong quality measure.
Listen to this audio clip of Robert talking about how experts’ unmet needs are at the heart of every strategic plan and drive meaningful quantitative metrics.
Our panel also discusses how much of the strategy should be shared with MSLs (spoiler alter: all of it), what type of tools and platforms are required and how a new organization can get started with developing their field medical strategic plans. They also share tips for how medical teams can make the most out their strategic plans and the planning process.
You can listen to the entire webinar here
If you would like to discuss how Monocl can help medical affairs professionals with planning and expert engagement, please contact one of our team members here.