“New Normal” or “Different Abnormal”? A Discussion About the Future of Virtual Interaction with External Experts

An extended period of time of working remotely due to COVID-19 has challenged medical affairs professionals and especially field medical who are used to personal interaction and face-to-face meetings with external experts. While virtual meetings are an option they take some getting used to on both sides.

In addition to challenging technology, the availability of some experts has changed dramatically. Those healthcare providers (HCPs) who are getting pulled into working on the front lines of care are unavailable to medical science liaisons (MSLs) except for critical information whereas others, e.g. researchers who do not normally see patients, might actually have more time to engage.

In our recent webinar our expert panel discussed these changes, surprising developments and trends brought on by this unprecedented situation. Here is a summary of some of the most salient points:

  • Establishing a relationship with new experts virtually remains one of the biggest challenges and one of the areas where face-to-face meetings will still be crucially important after the restrictions have been lifted.
  • The uptake of virtual meetings has been somewhat mixed but the trend was already going in that direction. With virtual platforms now more established and interaction especially between MSLs and experts, who have an existing relationship, have moved to these platforms or happen on the phone or via email.

    “The value of the MSL is in becoming a trusted scientific partner for KOLs and facilitate scientific exchange and insight collection and it doesn’t matter how that is accomplished; it really is how we meet the needs of our KOLs.”

    Donna Holder, Executive Director, GMA Field Medical Center of Excellence, Merck
  • But even the interaction with experts an MSL knows personally can suffer from lack of personal interaction. One way of counteracting this loss of direct interaction is for the MSL to develop a deep understanding of an expert’s scientific needs and preferred communications channels to be able to continue to deliver value. The channel through which information is conveyed is less important, however tools that facilitate planning and help MSLs develop comprehensive profiles of their external expert will play an increasingly important role as they help the MSL to better understand an expert’s need and provide relevant information.

    “Tools are going to become increasingly important. Not just video tools but the planning tools and the way you identify and understand who your experts are will be mission critical for MSLs to continue to deliver value.”

    Robert Groebel, VP Medical Strategy, Monocl
  • Changes have been happening extremely quickly for everybody involved. MSLs have been pulled into conversation about products or therapeutic areas they normally do not focus on. MSLs have shown great flexibility in coming up to speed quickly to be able to have relevant conversations about COVID. The scientific community has stepped up with incredible speed and we are seeing an exponentially growing number of publications and clinical studies on COVID.

    “A lot of MSLs are doing more work now, they are being pulled into supporting products and areas of science that they haven’t in the past.”

    Samuel Dyer, CEO, MSL Society
  • Access to medical facilities is currently restricted but demand for scientific information and discourse continues. While HCPs and MSLs are finding new ways to interact, sales representatives on the commercial side are likely to see their numbers reduced as a consequence of the new normal.
  • Virtual congresses have the potential to be a major driver of adoption of virtual interactions. An early trend that we are seeing is one of compressed conferences with MSL – expert engagements happening before or after the event rather than during. There are also emerging opportunities, e.g. MSLs interacting with presenters at virtual poster sessions that currently aren’t well attended and therefore make it fairly easy to engage the researcher in a virtual dialogue.

    “You might have less time for an interaction but you might get more interactions. It will be different but it doesn’t have to all be bad, there will be good changes out of this, too.”

    Josh Yoder, MSL, uniQure

None of our panelists expected a quick and complete return to the old normal. Virtual interactions are here to stay and the pandemic only accelerated a trend that was already happening.

If this blog piqued your interest, please listen to the webinar recording which provides more information and in-depth discussion of these important topics.

Related Reading: “Is COVID-19 Forever Changing How Commercial and Medical Field Teams work”?