Sharing Our Insights from The Medical Affairs Professionals Society Conference

A team from Monocl attended the Medical Affairs Professionals Society (MAPS) annual meeting in Miami from March 8 to 11, 2020. This must have been one of the last conferences that took place in person before the coronavirus pandemic shut down all large (and increasingly) small gatherings for the foreseeable future. In this blog, Lars summarizes the insights, trends, and topics that stood out for him as a first-time attendee.

Professional passion

There is a lot going on in medical affairs and throughout the talks, discussions, and presentations I attended I realized how passionate medical affairs professionals are about their work and how deeply they care about their ultimate customers, the patients. The question of how they can do an even better job underlay the entire conference making this an inspiring event.

The value of medical affairs

An often-discussed key question is what value the medical affairs organizations bring to the company and, related to that, how the momentum MA has enjoyed over the last years can be maintained. Challenging questions in that context are:

  • How can Medical Affairs justify their budgetary needs internally?
  • How can Medical Affairs measure their impact on the business?

This last question is particularly pertinent because MA, unlike the commercial organization, is not allowed to establish success based on easy to measure, quantitative stats such as prescription numbers and revenues.

From the presentations, it became clear this question does not have a final answer yet. Clearly a critically important topic will remain a central point of discussion for some time to come. New ideas and approaches from other industries might be useful in developing quantitative and qualitative metrics to answer the important question: have we, as medical affairs, succeeded in what we are trying to do?

Everybody is talking about AI and so is medical affairs

Analytics, particularly advanced analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence have become buzzwords in almost every industry and medical affairs is no exception. However, between hype and reality, there is a huge gap: very little is in place in medical affairs today, not even basic reporting. A few interesting use cases were discussed, e.g. the use of text mining for insight generation and analysis.

These are early days for AI in medical affairs, but the need, interest, and desire are definitely there and so I expect the rapid development of AI-based tools for use in MA.

Medical device companies are embracing MA

MA is no longer (almost) exclusively for pharmaceutical companies. Increasingly medical device and diagnostic companies recognize the value (however hard to measure) MA adds and as a consequence MA is exploding in med tech. Not only large companies like Phillips are building out MA teams, but also many midsize and even small companies are setting up MA functions. One driver is regulations like the European Medical Device Regulation which now requires clinical data for implantable and high-risk devices before a CE mark is granted as well as clinical and economic evidence, i.e. real proof of benefit. MA teams can play a critical role in meeting those requirements and drive readiness for the product launch.

Social media has arrived for good

Social and digital opinion leadership is more than a buzzword these days. Many discussions revolved around the desire of MA teams to identify, engage, and communicate with healthcare providers that use social media and other internet-based communication platforms. There is still a lot to figure out with regard to regulatory and privacy concerns as well as the ethical use of this information. MA teams clearly expressed that they want more information about social and digital opinion leaders, although the use cases are not always very clear yet. For both MA teams as well as vendors, finding out how to best leverage social media data is an exciting opportunity.

Medical affairs want patient-centricity

Perhaps the most exciting trend was the expressed desire by medical affairs to get closer to the patients. There is a clear recognition that they currently have too little direct involvement with patients and medical affairs are eager to fix this. The benefits of more direct medical affairs – patient interaction are clear: products can be designed to better meet the needs of the ultimate customer, the patient. The advance of personalized medicine as well as an increased focus on rare diseases – both fields where collecting real-world data is especially important – serve as the driver for the increased patient-centricity of medical affairs.

To end on a light note: one of the keynote speakers at the MAPS conference was Patch Adams - a fascinating doctor with deep compassion and a unique take on patient care and entertainment.

We are looking forward to next year’s meeting that hopefully will have a full house again and more discussions around these interesting topics. More about the Medical Affairs Professional Society 2020 conference can be found here.