This year’s Digital Transformation Journey for Medical Affairs conference was a dynamic and engaging event that tackled some of the biggest issues facing medical affairs today. COVID-19 and the lockdowns that followed accelerated the adoption of digital technology by pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms and the biggest message from the conference was “it’s time for medical affairs to seize the digital moment.” We saw presentations and discussions on a wide variety of topics from virtual assistants to machine learning algorithms to digital engagement. Below are the three big trends coming out of the conference.
Omnichannel is here to stay. Referring to a unified customer experience delivered across channels, omnichannel engagement puts the customer at the center and in control of their own content experience. This differs from multichannel engagement (read more here). If you’ve ever booked a trip to Disney World, for example, you’ve experienced omnichannel engagement in action. Once you book a trip on their mobile-responsive website, you’ll use the My Disney Experience app to plan your entire trip, from dining to Fast Passes for rides, and you can use it while in the park to find attractions and wait times. Disney will also send you a Magic Band—a wristband attendees wear to redeem Fast Passes, get into hotel rooms, pay for food, and store photos taken with characters at the park. It’s an impressive seamless experience and one that medical affairs, and pharma at large, has a lot to learn from.
The question is: how can I implement omnichannel engagement in medical affairs? At the conference, we learned this means starting small, integrating a few channels at a time, starting with a minimum viable product, and then moving up from there. Never one size fits all, its important to keep the end goal in mind when attempting omnichannel engagement—to streamline information from the entire healthcare ecosystem (payers, patients, physicians, pharma) to better patient care.
One of the greatest challenges facing medical affairs is finding the best way to communicate its value to the larger organization. Thanks to data analytics and machine-learning algorithms and other incredible technological innovations that allow us to synthesize vast amounts of data and generate insights that were impossible just a decade ago, we now have the power to communicate the value of medical affairs to key stakeholders. According to Luca Dezzani at AstraZeneca, communicating the value of medical affairs is done in a 4-step process:
1. Setting strategy, priorities, and goals
2. Identifying KPIs for each of the 4 cornerstones of medical affairs (pivotal decisions resulting from insights; data generation leading to changes in clinical practice; development, update, and use of the scientific platform; and improved patient outcomes resulting from medical education)
3. Monitoring the metrics
4. Establishing a feedback loop to keep things moving
This one is kind of redundant. After all, the entire conference was about digital engagement. Nonetheless, increasing the use of digital capabilities in medical affairs to transform engagement with key stakeholders encompasses the use of strategies such as omnichannel and is deeply concerned with communicating and measuring value. It was the subject of the panel I participated in during the second day of the conference. There’s much to discuss when it comes to digital engagement, but during my time on the panel I stressed the importance of communicating value in digital engagement as well as having a long-term vision for using digital in medical affairs. From augmented reality to HCP social media, there are numerous tools medical affairs professionals can use to deliver value to our customers. As I said in the panel discussion:
“We are very much in a competitive attention economy. And the only way that we are going to establish some of these digital platforms as a place for our customers to be at is by providing value. And so, I think understanding what that value exchanged between pharma and HCPs or pharma and patients looks like and the more insights we have around creating value, you have to create value first. You can’t wait to build an audience and then decide how you’re going to create value for your audience. Start with the value and then other things should fall into place.”
Overall, it was a fruitful and engaging conference. We discussed the arrive of disruptive trends like real-world data, artificial intelligence, precision medicine, and physician communities that will allow medical affairs to assume more strategic importance across the product life cycle. What an exciting time! But, as I said earlier, to capitalize on these trends and disruptive technologies, our approach to them should be driven first and foremost by providing value to HCPs and the patients they serve.
Sean Markwardt, Ph.D.
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