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The evolution of medical affairs – active cooperation, collaboration and communication

By Caron Kennedy

Caron Kennedy

Medical affairs (MAF) teams have always had an important role developing relationships with key opinion leaders (KOLs) and disseminating key data from clinical studies to healthcare professional (HCP) stakeholders. That role is evolving. Now, it requires transparent collaboration and active co-operation to enable the communication of more complex relevant information in a fast-paced, ‘always on’ world.

Communications delivered by their peers, thought leaders and senior practising clinicians are always better received by HCPs. Not only because the data is perceived as more credible but because such communications often have greater clinical focus, including the practicalities of implementation, rather than simply the reporting of new data with little clinical context.

A changing healthcare landscape, including new, specialised medicines and new stakeholders who demand more complex scientific information across all channels, means that MAF teams need to determine the most effective, efficient ways of managing collaborations with KOLs and other external stakeholders who conduct research, write articles or speak on their behalf. Managing the relationships and interactions with these stakeholders has ultimately emerged as an individual business discipline within MAF teams. Medical communications agencies are working closely with MAF teams to facilitate and enhance such relationships.

Communicating the clinical relevance of data

Pharma MAF teams play a crucial role in gathering accurate scientific and medical data, and they provide pharma companies with the valuable opportunity to interact with KOLs on a regular basis. Traditionally, such communications focused largely on reporting new data from clinical studies and reactively replying to requests for publications or further information held on file. Over time, this relationship has evolved into a true collaboration between two parties that understand the data. Crucially, KOLs provide valuable insights into the clinical relevance of the data and awareness of any barriers to implementation at a clinical level. The result? Clinical research is now translating more rapidly and effectively into clinical practice – the impact of which benefits patient outcomes and hopefully improves patient quality of life.

Enhanced opportunities in an era of new technology

The pandemic backdrop showcased how industry, researchers and clinicians could collaborate and mobilise to deliver during a global health pandemic. But it also nudged the industry into the 21st century. Tradition was rested and technology rose triumphantly to keep communication channels open – in many cases, in a more effective, efficient way.

The ‘return on investment’ from face-to-face interactions with HCPs has been reducing across the developed world since the beginning of the century. Virtual communication channels with HCPs progressed slowly until 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant increase in such communication.

Having acknowledged that there is an increasing need for MAF teams to collaborate and communicate with KOLs, we must now decide how to best communicate with them to develop a relationship of trust while sharing valuable data. In turn, KOL advocates can communicate effectively with their peers and the wider HCP community. Such KOL-driven content can be leveraged via multiple channels, increasingly digital and virtual, to reach many HCP stakeholders.

Looking to the future

Some pharma company MAF teams have embraced the potential for collaboration with KOLs and, as a result, have a very effective communication channel to HCP stakeholders (including specialists, GPs, pharmacists, nurses and payers). Sadly, others have been slower to acknowledge the need to evolve. As pharma companies continue to realise the potential positive impact that KOLs can have on their business, KOL engagement will continue to evolve and develop as a critical industry discipline.

By creating and maintaining meaningful and collaborative relationships between KOLs and business functions, pharma companies can expect to see increased drug development success and accelerated adoption at global, national and regional levels.

The further evolution of the relationship of collaboration and trust between pharma MAF teams and KOLs (or ‘external experts’, as they are increasingly referred to) will have a positive impact on the nature of communications with HCPs. Consequently, HCPs will better understand data and clinical impact, making the most of pharmaceutical developments when managing their patients. The result? Improved clinical outcomes. Evolving MAF teams have the potential to have a significant impact on the nature and impact of HCP stakeholder engagement in the future.

The future of MAF teams will undoubtedly be influenced by the changing pharma and healthcare environment. However, the MAF teams themselves have the potential to shape the pharmaceutical industry and clinical practice, ultimately having a positive impact on patients.

Caron Kennedy is a Director at Sciterion

Caron Kennedy is a Director at Sciterion

1st April 2022

From: Healthcare

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