Assessing the value of field medical professionals has long been a challenge. Quantitative activity-driven metrics such as the number of experts an MSL engages or the time they spend in the field are fairly easy to track and look good on a simple dashboard, but they don’t get to the heart of the matter: establishing the true value created by field medical. After all, fewer, highly focused and productive meetings with an external expert can lead to a better relationship and better outcomes than frequent meetings that fail to deliver value to both the expert and the organization.
Qualitative metrics that capture impact and value are the holy grail of MSL assessment but are notoriously difficult to measure.
We asked two experts to discuss this highly relevant and timely topic with us in a webinar co-hosted by the Medical Science Liaison Society. In this blog we summarize the highlights of this discussion with Leann Pezdirtz, Head of Field Based Medicine at Boehringer Ingelheim, and Robert Groebel, VP Global Medical Strategy at Monocl.
Needed: new ways of measuring MSL impact
In a survey conducted before the webinar we asked over 330 MSLs and MSL Managers/Directors “Should companies develop new ways to measure the value and impact of MSLs?” and found overwhelming agreement: 80% answered this question with “Yes” and only 3% with “No”.
Our panel agrees with this assessment: the importance of medical affairs has grown significantly and the strategic importance of the function and the expanded responsibilities that come with that growth and prominence require new ways of measuring impact and value.
Looking across the industry, just about every organization is looking for ways to demonstrate qualitative value and impact.Robert Groebel, VP, Global Medical Strategy, Monocl
There is also broad agreement on what type of changes are necessary. The currently predominantly quantitative, activity-driven metrics need to be supplemented with qualitative metrics that allow medical affairs to assess and demonstrate the value and impact of their work. Examples of qualitative metrics are:
- Direct feedback from external experts about how satisfied they are with their MSLs and the information they receive from them
- Feedback from cross-functional market access and commercial colleagues
- Demonstrated growing rapport with experts which can manifest itself in increased willingness of the expert to engage in a variety of collaborative activities. This is a direct measure of the quality of the relationship between the MSL and the expert and how well the MSL is able to meet the expert’s scientific needs.
- Manager assessment is critical in context of assessing subjective measures that cannot be easily captured otherwise. A manager can assess the nature of the expert-MSL engagement - a much more relevant metric than counting interactions.
Here is a short audio clip of Leann Pezdirtz speaking about how qualitative metrics need to be added to activity-based one and how medical affairs leadership is critical in putting them in perspective and ensuring organizational alignment.
Demonstrating MSL value – why are we still having this discussion?
The value of qualitative metrics is undisputed, but implementing these metrics, especially at scale, continues to be difficult and with that communicating the value of field medical within the organization also remains a challenging task.
The evolution of medical affairs from an operational to a strategic role required an adjustment of metrics. Reach and frequency metrics, that were adopted early on and were modelled after those used by the commercial team, are no longer adequate. While life science companies have embraced the idea of adding qualitative impact-driven metrics, implementation poses continued challenges:
- While medical affair’s role is a strictly scientific/medical one, the function still operates within a commercial enterprise and has to continuously show how field medical contributes to the success of the organization.
- Qualitative metrics are difficult and time consuming to measure, especially at scale.
- Establishing the value of insights MSLs bring back into the organization is particularly hard. Insights can have broad, tangible impact that is virtually impossible to quantify, e.g. what value does one assign to an insight that informs the amendment of a protocol which ends up shifting an entire development program?
- Medical affairs do not operate in isolation which makes it hard to tease out the contribution of one person, e.g. in building a mutually beneficial relationship with an expert.
- KPIs and metrics are often not adjusted to match the life cycle for a product, however, the organization’s needs are very different in different stages. Metrics therefore have to be modified to fit the life cycle stage of a product.
- MSL have a number of important responsibilities in addition to expert engagement and quality metrics for those activities are also difficult to establish.
- The best metrics align with the field medical strategic plan. However, these plans are subject to updates and reviews and with that change. As strategic plans change, the KPIs of the medical field teams need to be adjusted accordingly to guarantee continued alignment.
- Critically, medical field teams need to have visibility into the overall strategic plan so they can make sure they align their engagement plan.
- Analytical support is essential to capture, assess and report qualitative metrics at scale.
In addition to the challenges associated with measuring the right metrics at scale, demonstrating the value MSLs add to the organization to senior management also represents a formidable a communication challenge.
Communicating value within the organization
Quantitative metrics are easy to present in an executive dashboard and intuitive to understand at a glance. Since they are of limited value for demonstrating the value of the field medical team and its members, our panel recommends to limit the focus on these activity-based metrics and instead try and communicate the true value of insights and relationships. This can be done by sharing a few solid examples of how insights have shaped the strategy of a therapeutic area and contributed to the success of the product.
MSL activities in addition to expert engagement also deserve highlighting, e.g. the value an MSL adds to a sales meeting by sharing their knowledge, the dedicated speaker training that results in experts who have much more impact in front of their audience, or the support MSLs can provide to the clinical operations teams with respect to site selection for clinical trials are just a few concrete examples of MSL responsibilities that add significant but are hard to quantify. Communicating the value of these activities requires a significant amount of time and effort but demonstrates the true value and impact of field medical.
These are just some of the highlights of the webinar, in addition our panel shares their experiences, discusses the important role MSL managers play in developing and implementing qualitative metrics as well as the critical role technology, especially analytics tools, play in this process.
The entire webinar is available here: