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Building sustainable relationships

Partnerships with influential thought leaders can be secured through a strategically planned medical education programme

building relationshipsMedical education is fundamental to increasing disease awareness, therapy literacy and ultimately improving patient outcomes. It represents an opportunity for the industry to forge strong and sustainable relationships with healthcare professionals and other stakeholders.

However, increasingly stringent regulation and scrutiny is driving thought leaders to think carefully before they embark on collaborations. Initiatives with a strong disease awareness focus, rather than more product oriented one, could be of interest to the most influential thought leaders. 

Creating win:win partnerships
Influential thought leaders are involved in cutting-edge research, are often editors of peer-reviewed journals and may have senior roles in international scientific organisations. Careful research and analysis will ensure that the most influential individuals are identified as potential medical education partners.

The next challenge is to identify the educational 'win:win' that will encourage thought leaders to become part of the programme. This is generally an area of clinical interest and unmet need, where there is a gap between current and best practice. This gap, and the need for action, galvanises experts as advisers, content developers, presenters and champions of change.

Raising awareness regarding aspects of a continuum-of-care, that are not routinely the focus for therapy area thought leaders, may represent fertile ground for 'win:win' educational initiatives. Examples include engaging with influential oncologists to improve supportive care, such as enteral and parenteral nutrition and working with stroke neurologists to improve long-term stroke care where their focus is generally acute management.

It is increasingly critical that educational programme development brings together a multi-disciplinary thought leader group to develop the rationale, objectives and deliverables of the educational programme. One such educational collaboration, between a pharmaceutical sponsor and a global group of advisors, has been in existence for more than two years. Sustainable relationships have been built and the programme is delivering numerous educational initiatives and tools that will drive improvements in long-term care and support for stroke survivors.

Relationships are built on the foundations of openness, honesty, transparency and trust. Those developed when working with thought leaders are no different. The planning and quality of initial expert engagement is critically important. From the start thought leaders must feel ownership and control over the development of educational and policy-changing initiatives. The rationale, objectives and specification of educational content, online courses and live meetings must be the result of close and transparent collaboration. Surprises should be kept to a minimum as they can damage the sustainability of relationships.

Strategic design
Sustainable relationships are based upon mutual respect, consistency and the significance of the educational programme. The programme should be strategically designed to ensure evolution, such that the interest and enthusiasm of thought leaders is retained. Key elements of strategic design include: continual identification of new ideas and initiatives; rigorous prioritisation to ensure excellence in delivery; agreement on measures of success; engagement of new experts, broadening initiatives to include collaboration with scientific organisations as appropriate. 

Mobilisation of thought leaders to increase disease awareness and therapy literacy through the development of educational materials and live-meeting podium presentations is in itself key to building sustainable relationships.

A strategically planned medical education programme can be a key to fostering successful long-term relationships between the industry and healthcare professionals.

Neil W McLellandMedErgy
The Author

Neil W McLelland is director of client services (Europe) at
MedErgy HealthGroup

Email him at




3rd June 2011


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