As most of us in pharma know, the medical science liaison (MSL) role is purely scientific, educational and non-promotional, making it difficult for medical and company leadership to assess its performance. Compared to the sales function, companies continue to struggle with developing an assessment plan that can accurately benchmark MSL performance. Many organizations that we have worked with also face challenges in articulating the value of this critical role, and their assessments are qualitative rather than quantitative and results-driven.
Based on our experience across more than 75 medical affairs clients and our analysis of industry benchmarks, we believe that an MSL KPI should help accurately measure MSL performance and convey the overall value story. A good MSL KPI should follow the ACT framework (be actionable, comprehendible and tangible). Rather than the typical disjointed methods that have few metrics and are partly driven by customer feedback or percentage of completed compliance trainings, we believe that companies should implement a comprehensive assessment model which is quintessential for appropriate evaluation. This model should include three critical dimensions:
- External perceptions: Gauging the effectiveness of MSL engagements with KOLs/HCPs through double blinded or unblinded real-time feedback evaluations is a key function in assessing MSL performance. Such studies help reveal the essential action steps for MSLs by better understanding their customer needs, perceptions and choices while evaluating performance.
- Internal leadership/stakeholder perceptions: Assessing cross-functional perceptions of the MSL team is critical to understanding the internal expectations and determining gaps to be plugged to completely leverage the scientific knowledge that the MSLs bring to the organization.
- The right KPIs: MSL objectives vary by product life cycle, strategic objectives and therapy area nuances and need to be prioritized accordingly. This, in turn, means that a set of KPIs for an MSL in one therapy area should not be duplicated in its entirety for another MSL in a different therapy area. The same rule may even apply for MSLs in a single team that’s distributed across geographies. (For example, an MSL located in the Northwestern United States may not be visiting a lot of KOLs because of the limited number of KOLs in that region and the distances to be covered, so this can’t be a key metric to evaluate the MSL’s performance.)
Assessing these quantitative factors while accounting for priorities, goals, activities in a company’s therapy area, life cycle and role definitions will help measure the performance of the MSL role more accurately. Therefore, companies need an overall medical index, the inputs of which are outcomes of the three quantitative factors described above. This medical index should be flexible enough to account and make adjustments for nuances as suggested above and not follow a one-size-fits-all approach. This medical index will then become the metric that can be used to measure MSL performance and thus compensation decisions, helping medical affairs organizations quantify the overall value of this ever evolving and complex role.