Our chief medical officer, and head of platforms, looks back over his 21 years in the industry, reflecting on the challenges that have faced medical affairs teams and how scientific relationship management™ (SRM™) is evolving rapidly to better meet the needs of patients.

David Williams

Next month, I pass a milestone. No, not a special wedding anniversary, although I should probably make a diary note of that, but in June I will have been part of the pharmaceutical industry for 21 years. Some of us, of a certain age, would expect a key to the door on their 21st. A tradition and a rite of passage, this symbolic key represents the opportunity to unlock the future and signifies independence. But what does this rite of passage mean for the world of medical affairs?

Pharma doesn’t get out of bed for less than $2 billion

When I first joined the industry as a medical advisor, blockbuster mentality reigned supreme with big budgets and lavish hospitality in abundance. Marketing and sales teams ruled the conversations, and sales frequency was king. But what of the science and medical affairs departments? They were usually buried under a mountain of paperwork, containing the contorted language of the ABPI code, often found having conversations with marketing managers about ‘why we cannot say that’ and explaining why the weight of evidence does not support such a statement.

In those days the sales representative was the conduit to the customer with payer focus limited and ineffectual. Selling was seen as the only way to achieve commercial goals, with call rate all important. 21 years ago, no one had heard of market access or HTA, and the thought of medical teams out in the field was a completely alien one. Some of these outdated notions have persisted for years, with countless organisations, especially in the US, abiding by the mantra that success is achieved through call rate and frequency, a mindset still present 21 years on!

Following the science and the future of medical affairs

One of the lessons we have painfully learned during the pandemic has been the importance of following the science. A concept understood far too late by our politicians. It is by following the science that better decisions are made; much is the same for medicine. The companies that practice patient-focused, evidence-based principles generate better outcomes, which is better for the patient and society.

So as medical affairs become a strategic partner with other company departments, what is the future?

For medical affairs to proposer, and become ever more impactful, they need to understand the science, and marry that science with skills such as planning, project management and budgeting. More importantly, medical affairs teams need to understand that by getting closer to the healthcare practitioner (HCP) and patient they can gather more information and match their science with their wants and needs, becoming customer-centric.

Key Opinion Leaders Mapping Platform

Whether there are physical interactions face-to-face or virtual meetings, modern medical affairs teams must communicate with the right people, at the right time, with the right messaging. Medical affairs teams should wave goodbye to the call frequency mindset, and embrace the opportunities offered to them through a SRM system, which allows teams to have meaningful conversations with the appropriate healthcare practitioners and gather real-time insight about the science and practice.

The industry has tried and failed to effectively use customer relationship marketing within its sales team functions, often pushing out impersonal sales messages to the masses. What we all need to appreciate is, that in the modern health system, the payor and physician has much more control and needs to be truly convinced that the solution you have developed will make a tangible difference to patient outcomes, making each interaction so much more valuable.

The solution

The solution is knowledge. According to IBM, human knowledge is doubling every 13 months on average, however with the expansion of the “internet of things” the doubling of knowledge will occur every 12 hours.

Looking at that in context, in 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every 100 years. By the end of 1945, the rate was every 25 years. The “Knowledge Doubling Curve”, as it’s commonly known, was created by Buckminster Fuller in 1982.

What is clear now is that as medical knowledge grows, guidelines and patient empowerment becomes more widespread, medical affairs teams need to understand the scientific environment fully before progressing with their interactions. By gathering the scientific evidence and being fully informed, the medical affairs team can lay the foundation of trust and belief. The more knowledgeable the team is, the more empowered they are to have meaningful conversations with HCPs. It is this dissemination of science, analytical approach and real-time knowledge that is the biggest differentiator for medical affairs team.

See who co-authors within the scientific landscape

Discover the latest science in your therapy area and patient needs. Define the key opinion leaders and HCPs. Understand their individual specialisms and how they like to be contacted. And build all that into a SRM platform. Better still, use one that allows insights to be shared across the organisation for the wider benefit of all.

Although everything feels like it has been turned on its head in the last year, the fundamentals of healthcare have not changed. The patient remains at the centre of it all. We need to empower HCPs with the most up to date knowledge, in a way they feel comfortable, to allow them to make better patient decisions. We should never forget our traditions, and receiving key on your 21st is one of them, but we must move on to embrace science and relationships in a new way.