COVID-19 – The Consequences of a Pandemic on Medical Affairs

COVID-19 – The Consequences of a Pandemic on Medical Affairs

Over the last week life everywhere has become much more difficult and confined. Who would have thought as recently as last month that whole companies would go virtual, countries close their borders and put their populations under quarantine, flying gets restricted and sports events from the German Soccer Bundesliga to the US NCAA are canceled.

Life and work are becoming ever more challenging for people around the world and medical affairs professionals are no exception. In this blog, we discuss how field medical professionals are impacted and what the long-term effects might be.

No more face-to-face meetings

The most obvious impact on-field medical professionals are travel restrictions and seriously curtailed opportunities for face-to-face meetings. Whether the long-planned meeting with a KOL at a now canceled conference or visits with experts at hospitals and institutes, MSLs need to find a way to engage KOLs without personal meetings in times of unprecedented stress on the entire healthcare system.

Modern technologies from teleconferencing to virtual meetings, collaboration hubs, and cloud storage applications make working remotely and interacting digitally easier than ever. While a personal meeting can be more productive and often is preferable to a virtual one, the tools now exist to go fully virtual instantly. There is a bit of good news here for MSLs: like all field-based professionals, they and their office-based colleagues are used to interacting virtually with one another. The adjustment will, therefore, be a lot easier for them than for many other professionals unaccustomed to remote work.

Doctors need to be doctors first

A different challenge for MSLs in particular will be that their KOLs and other experts might not be available to them for an extended period of time. In times of crisis, doctors need to be doctors first, not KOLs, experts or advisors to pharmaceutical companies.
The current situation vividly described by Silvia Stringhini. an Italian epidemiologist via Twitter - @silviast9

But even those who aren’t fighting on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, e.g. oncologists, will be busy with patients who are concerned about Coronavirus and will need to focus on them rather than doing clinical research, start new clinical trials or meet with MSLs.

Clinical trial activity will slow down

Clinical trials will also be affected. Hospitals can’t lock down resources in clinical trials in a situation like this and therefore recruitment and monitoring of clinical trials will have to slow down while the world deals with this crisis.

3 conference options: go virtual, postpone, or cancel

Many conferences have been canceled a regularly updated list can be found here: or, such as AACR, is postponed. Even ASCO, the world’s largest clinical cancer meeting, is rumored to go virtual. Virtual talks and presentations are perfectly suitable when it comes to, e.g. discussing the latest data from a clinical trial. Whether you sit in a darkened room to listen to a presentation or at your desk to do so doesn’t make much of a difference. The organizers of these large established meetings have the tools to pull off successful virtual presences.

The networking aspects of such large meetings, however, can’t be recreated virtually quite yet. Therefore, meetings whose primary focus is on face-to-face interaction and networking are more likely to suffer.

Long term consequences?

With travel impossible, healthcare providers unavailable, conferences canceled or postponed are there long-term consequences, especially for MSLs? We asked Lars Birgerson, CEO of Chief Executive Officer at Adlai Nortye USA, who has headed medical affairs for companies like Genentech, Roche, and BMS, whether he expects lay-offs and a fundamental change to how field medical is working.

”No” was his answer, “face-to-face meetings are perceived to be valuable by KOLs and therefore by the pharmaceutical companies. After the situation is under control, things will go back to normal, and HCPs will be happy to welcome field medical professionals back into their offices.” For that reason, he also does not expect significant lay-offs.

What’s an MSL to do?

Unavailable KOLs, fewer conferences, and no travel may leave the busy road warriors that MSLs normally are with a bit of breathing room. This might be just the time to tend to some of the tasks, that are back burner way too often, such as updating expert profiles, checking out who the new, emerging KOLs are in one’s field of expertise and interest, doing some serious catching up of clinical trial data, or finding out which experts the competition is working with. These are all tasks that will make work easier and more efficient once it’s time to reschedule those canceled meetings and hit the road again.

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