Medical Affairs professionals must demonstrate digital competency and mindset change to continue benefiting from the Covid-19 digital transformation, according to an opinion article by Daniel Furtner and colleagues.

They write that engagement of the future will need to be high quality and tailored to individual doctors’ needs and preferences. And digital tools will replace many of today’s face-to-face interactions.

“The shift to a digital transformation will also see medical affairs adopting an omnichannel customer approach, contributing to the integration of digital touchpoints that will put HCPs and patients versus the drug at the core,” they write.

It’s a win-win, according to Amit Lalwani, the Omnichannel Lead at Medical Affairs Professionals of Australasia (MAPA) and two-time MSL of the year 2022 (Prime Awards and Medical Science Liaison Society). Doctors want digital solutions, and digital provides efficiency for pharmaceutical companies as well, he says.

But there’s a long way to go with many learnings ahead.

“Digital communication is really in its infancy, especially within the Medical Affairs function. One of the reasons is that the traditional face-to-face approach has worked well for decades and is still working well. But with the continuously evolving Medical Affairs function, a mindset change is required.”

Lalwani agrees with the authors that Covid-19 triggered a focus on what doctors really need. “The fact is they often prefer a digital approach,” he says.

Lalwani shares an anecdote from a doctor who challenged him to provide highly valuable information in a format he could digest in four minutes in the morning. 

It was a confronting challenge, he says. “That’s when I came up with the idea of providing doctors with bite-sized or modular content.”

That could be on-demand video or audio explainers about a therapeutic area or medication, or key points from a paper or conference presentation, for example.

In a recent ADG survey, 67% of GPs supported the statement that: “New information solutions that are available on demand and in an easy-to-consume format that I need to support my professional knowledge should be part of all pharmaceutical educational and marketing plans.”[1]

Digital transformation does not mean an end to face-to-face communication, however. Omnichannel communication, by definition, includes multiple methods of engagement working together. In-person communication can be included in the strategy along with digital solutions.

One of the advantages of digital communication is that the MSL can engage more doctors because they cut down on travelling time, says Lalwani. “However, a disadvantage may be that you don’t get to know the doctor so well and you cannot see their body language.”

He concludes with a message for his MSL colleagues: “Start thinking in an omnichannel way. Speak to your marketing colleagues and the digital specialists in your company. They are highly skilled in this area and can help you come up with solutions to test.”

  • Lalwani, Felicity Kao (Abbvie) and Feisa Dam (AstraZeneca) presented a workshop on communication at last year’s Medical Affairs Professionals of Australasia conference.

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[1] 14. Information sources for GPs in the new COVID world; ADG Survey, November 2020, n= 296.