Insights Are the Currency of Medical Science Liaisons

Insights Are the Currency of Medical Science Liaisons

Engaging external experts in scientific discourse related to their drugs was long considered the most important responsibility of medical science liaisons. This aspect of an MSL’s job is still important, however, the task of gathering insights from the discussions with healthcare providers and external experts has also moved center stage.

While companies get input and information from a variety of sources, e.g. from their advisory boards, insights collected by MSLs who engage the treating community on an ongoing basis are different, unique and invaluable in their ability to inform all aspects of the drug life cycle.

This blog is a summary of our recent webinar “Improving Expert Access Through the Use of Effective Insight Gathering” and provides an overview of what medical insights are, why a coordinated approach to collecting and analyzing them is mission critical and how insights are an excellent way for MSLs to demonstrate their value to the company.

The webinar, which was co-produced by the Medical Science Liaison Society and Monocl, featured two industry experts: Ralph Rewers, National Director Anti-Infective/Virology/HCV Medical Science Liaisons at Abbvie and Robert Groebel, VP of Global Medical Strategy at Monocl, who share their experiences and (pun intended) insights about medical insights.

What is an insight and why is it important

A survey of 273 global MSLs who registered for the webinar showed that 53% answered the question “Do you know the difference between an actionable insight vs something that an expert shared?” with yes. The rest either wasn’t sure or answered no.


The reasons that only about half of the respondents know that difference may be partially due to terminology. Different companies use different terms for the same thing, “actionable insights” might also be called “meaningful insights”, “medical insights” or even “data point observations” or “raw data”.

But terminology is only part of the story. The survey also highlights the fact that insights – whatever term is used - are not well defined in many companies. A clear and consistent definition will help MSLs understand what the company is looking for and make it easier for them to recognize an insight when it is shared by a healthcare provider.

Our panel agreed, that bringing insights to the company is one of the main ways MSLs can add value to the organization while also demonstrating their value to the company.

This quote by Ralph Rewers sums up both to how important insights are and how uniquely positioned MSLs are to collecting them.

The single most important area of value that a field medical team can bring to a company are insights.

Ralph Rewers, National Director Anti-Infective/Virology/HCV Medical Science Liaisons, Abbvie

While educational information about a drug can be disseminated through various channels, e.g. MSLs, medical education or speaker programs, MSLs are uniquely positioned to bring insights from the field back into the organization. No other function is dedicated to this task and has the breadth of exposure to and depth of engagement with the healthcare provider community. Take advisory boards: they generally consist of high-level, top-tier experts with very specific skill sets that are engaged to advise on specific issues. However, they usually do not treat patients and therefore cannot share insights related to treatment. MSLs have ongoing discussions with HCPs and are in an excellent position to learn how physicians think about a drug and understand not just the needs of the HCP community but, importantly, those of patients and caregivers.

Insight vs “something an HCP shares”

It is important for MSLs to understand the difference between an insight and other facts HCPs might share in the course of a scientific or medical discussion. The critical difference is: an insight is exclusive to the discussion and outside of the scientific information that an MSL routinely discusses with an HCP or external expert as part of their job, e.g. when presenting the latest clinical trial data or sharing new abstracts. Examples of insights are suggestions on how to structure a phase IV trial to achieve a label expansion or considering a subpopulation where patient outcomes may be improved. This is a critical distinction that companies have to take into consideration when developing a meaningful definition for the term “insight”.

Insights drive strategy

Individual insights are important but it is the aggregate of many insights that can drive actions, such a changing and/or augmenting the medical strategy. An example are individual insights collected in different countries but with the same tone and direction. Viewed individually they are just data points but analyzed in aggregate they can tell a story and lead to actionable outcomes.

In this audio clip Robert Groebel discusses a concrete example of how analyzing global insights led to improved dosing of a drug.

Technology tools such as natural language processing and machine learning are making the task of insight analysis ever faster and more comprehensive.

The importance of knowing the medical strategy

For MSLs to be successful with insight gathering two important criteria need to be met:

  1. MSLs need to be privy to the medical strategy for their product
  2. MSLs need to understand how to gather information that either confirms the strategy or adds additional information that can be used to pivot or enhance it.

Without knowing the medical strategy for the therapeutic area and their products MSLs cannot collect meaningful insights because they do not know what to listen for and what questions to ask of the HCP. Our panel agrees the first thing a new MSLs or any MSL who does not know the medical strategy for their product should ask from leadership is “What is the medical strategy for my product?”

Here is Ralph Rewers talking about the importance of medical strategy.

The insights black hole

The biggest frustration associated with insight gathering is what some MSLs refer to as the “black hole”: they submit insight after insight but never hear back from their internal colleagues. For a robust insight gathering program it is imperative that companies close the loop and tell the field team what impact the insights they collected and submitted had, e.g. how their insights led to a change or evolution of the medical strategy.

One way for MSLs is to improve uptake is by communicating insights to directors in a more effective way. Ralph Rewers and his teams use a set of criteria summarized by the acronym SHINE to increase internal uptake and follow-on of insights.

Insight Gathering

If an insight fulfills these criteria it generally elicits a reaction, e.g. in form of a follow-on question – the surest sign that the MSL has gathered an important insight.

But there is more …

In addition to these topics our panel discussed best practices for gathering and using insights, strategies to collect insights during virtual meetings, as well as the role of technology in the insight gathering process.

You can listen to the entire webinar here

To learn more about Monocl can support your company’s work with the HCP community and external experts, please book some time with one of our team members.

Measuring MSL Impact and Value – An Ongoing Challenge
Field Medical Strategic Plan: Roadmap, Insurance Policy and Best Way to Demonstrate Value