There have been dramatic shifts in how medical affairs organizations operate since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The customer engagement model has undergone significant changes, as there are new stakeholders to reach and a growing number of channels for scientific information dissemination. However, these stakeholders have unique needs and these channels are increasingly complex. To meet this critical moment, medical affairs organizations should reassess and revamp their go-to-market (GTM) strategy to stay ahead of industry and, most importantly, stakeholder expectations.
As part of this strategy, medical affairs must provide information in a way that sustains key opinion leader (KOL) engagement and increases touchpoints. According to our 2022 medical affairs outlook report, 62% of KOLs in the EU and 48% of KOLs in the U.S. believe medical science liaisons (MSLs) should begin scientific engagements before or during phase 3 trials. Medical affairs organizations will continue to be at the center of this change in the years to come and must evolve and adapt to continue creating internal and external value, all while becoming more comfortable with virtual engagements.
A new GTM strategy, or framework for the future, should be based on five key levers (see Figure 1) that will drive holistic transformation of medical affairs, with compliance as the foundation.
Building NextGen Medical Affairs
Of the framework’s five building blocks, what we call NextGen Medical Affairs is the most important. NextGen Medical Affairs is a future-focused version of medical affairs in which the six dimensions listed below play critical roles. It will provide the strategic footing needed for the tactical implementation of all other GTM layers. The journey to reach NextGen Medical Affairs will require transformation across multiple dimensions, including:
Talent and roles: As the information, customer type and their unique needs evolve, medical affairs should look to create new and customized roles to address these specific needs and build new relationships. The virtual MSL and account-focused roles are a step in this direction. Refining existing onboarding and training plans will be important to ensure medical affairs professionals are prepared to address the needs of the new landscape.
Customer engagement model: As a part of NextGen Medical Affairs, medical affairs will be charged with the responsibility of scientific market shaping to ensure both stakeholder and unmet needs are addressed. The operating model for medical affairs will need to undergo many shifts to account for changing processes, strategies, roles and stakeholder additions. KOLs are planning to have more in-person interactions in the next year with MSLs. And, according to our 2022 medical affairs outlook report, KOLs prefer to have twice as many engagements with MSLs they want to engage with most, versus MSLs they would like to engage with least.
Deployment: Organizations should start thinking about flexible and agile resourcing models, given the shift to virtual and the need to share more information with varied stakeholders. There may be considerations around flexible resourcing, especially for therapy areas with associated disease states. Closer, compliant collaboration between medical affairs and commercial to harmonize engagement strategies will also be needed. Rather than following a one-size-fits-all approach, organizations should consider the unique needs of the landscape when deploying resources.
Innovation: Functions such as medical excellence, with a focus on driving innovation; standard operating procedure development; harmonization of processes; coaching and best practice sharing will become regular features in how medical affairs organizations are structured. Organizations should focus on innovation and deploying the right engagement tactics to capture the attention of the end stakeholders.
Patient centricity: The importance of patient centricity will only increase in the future. Medical affairs can help achieve this by aiding in the effective development of novel medicines, running patient support programs and playing a larger role in enhancing patient access to treatments. Understanding the educational needs of patients and enhancing field medical training to ensure a patient-centric approach are other important avenues. Positive patient outcomes will help underline the value and impact of medical affairs.
Data and enablers: While designing the medical affairs GTM framework, a key goal will be implementing a robust data maturity roadmap. Applying the right analytical layers on top of the rich scientific information obtained from the field will be the biggest enabler of data-driven decisions in medical affairs. Developing a customer 360 database, master data management and cross-functional sharing of insights will also be important.
Though NextGen Medical Affairs will be at the center of developing a vision for the future of medical affairs, a focus on some of the other dimensions will be essential to ensure clear tactical implementation.
Redefining the customer map
Medical affairs teams today have a wide variety of stakeholders to whom they must disseminate customized information. As the influence of medical affairs continues to grow, so will the stakeholder spectrum. Accounts, institutions, patient advocacy groups, accountable care organizations, integrated delivery networks, community physicians, payers and other stakeholders in the healthcare community will be keen to engage with medical affairs.
With the expansion of the medical affairs customer map, it will be critical to prioritize the right stakeholders for engagement. The prioritization criteria will vary based on factors such as portfolio, disease awareness, knowledge, treatment complexities and more. The role of medical account management is one example of how we see medical affairs groups addressing changes to the customer map. The medical account management role is tasked with developing strong scientific relationships with institutions such as hospital networks, which are an important emerging stakeholder type for medical affairs.
Redefining the customer map will require changes to the engagement planning process because the needs and interaction preferences of these stakeholders will vary. An additional trend medical affairs will need to consider is greater geographic variability across stakeholder types.
Agile customer engagement planning and omnichannel
Having exclusively in-person meetings are a thing of the past, as stakeholders continue to show interest in hybrid engagements. Medical affairs leaders will need to create engagement strategies that consider new and existing customers, their varying needs and an exponential increase in communication channels. They must do this while being the preferred scientific partner in a highly competitive environment.
Omnichannel engagement is an important lever in the GTM framework of the future, and it’s critical to carefully handle existing relationships while managing newer customers and white spaces. What’s more, medical affairs organizations of the future will move beyond the traditional concept of KOL tiering as KOL archetypes with their own unique needs are created. As medical affairs becomes more familiar with their customers’ priorities, they will inch closer to creating more personalized engagement experiences.
In this evolving medical affairs landscape, a future-ready GTM model should respond with agility to shifts in the perceptions, preferences and behaviors of customers. Omnichannel success will require a clear vision for digital, an understanding of stakeholder needs and a focus on short-term wins and long-term objectives (depending on implementation complexity). Designing information buckets and deploying resources to meet the needs of stakeholders will be especially important.
Conducting localized medical needs assessments
Leaders will need to create localized models due to differing needs and requirements across geographic regions. Even needs within a single geography can vary. These localized models can take many forms, such as centrally managed teams, dedicated regional teams, uniform workload assumptions for field teams or locally differentiated adaptive deployment.
Some factors to consider while designing localized deployment models include:
- Orientation of institutions—financial versus educational or clinical
- Prevalence of disease in the region
- Unmet medical needs of stakeholders
- Pricing pressures with the emphasis on cost-value benefits
Developing metrics to evaluate the medical needs of a region can help drive localized resourcing and engagements for medical teams. Such models will stretch beyond the typical workload, frequency and reach-based parameters for allocating personnel across geographies. Thus, local healthcare medical needs assessments can help field medical and medical affairs leadership develop a more accurate picture of market needs, drive resourcing decisions and create an engagement roadmap for medical affairs. This can also help prevent over indexing on workload-based parameters and help define a deployment strategy that is flexible and accommodating of regional needs.
A focus on digital tools, upskilling and talent management
Medical affairs organizations of the future will soon face the accelerated adoption of digital systems and processes, but it’s critical that digital strategies are deployed at the intersection of organizational strategies and stakeholder preferences. Leaders will need to address streamlined and compliant cross-functional collaboration, and digital will be a key driver in ensuring that the appropriate compliance processes and best practices are followed.
Streamlined change management processes are crucial in helping organizations adapt to rapid technological changes. Key barriers for adoption—such as skill deficit, rigid mindsets and unawareness around the impact on stakeholder needs—are critical for leaders to understand and solve. In addition to the scientific know-how, soft skills and attributes such as emotional intelligence will need to be incorporated into training programs. Learning management systems and learning pathways should be designed to enable quick ramp-ups and ramp-downs of learnings, while facilitating an agile learning journey.
Ensuring successful GTM strategies
The way each medical affairs organization implements their own GTM framework for the future will vary depending on factors such as their pipeline, market landscape, stakeholder needs, upcoming milestones, current state, short-term and long-term priorities, budgets and more. The most important aspect leaders should focus on is anchoring their efforts around the actual needs of medical affairs, while also providing the best and most relevant scientific information.
Leaders must do this while strengthening their internal and external capabilities in digital, omnichannel and new stakeholder engagement. Doing so will ensure that the GTM plan creates the ideal roadmap for medical affairs to be the true scientific partner to its stakeholders. It will also allow medical affairs to transform itself to drive strategic changes that positively impact the healthcare ecosystem.
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