Are Medical Affairs Teams Ready to Go Digital? A New Playbook for Field Medical Amid a Global Pandemic
COVID-19 has created a difficult paradox for life sciences teams. Medical affairs and medical science liaisons have been pulled from the field at the very moment when healthcare providers are experiencing one of the biggest disruptions to ever hit their practices. With patients avoiding physicians’ offices for anything but the most serious conditions and providers stretched thin -- in many cases displaced themselves -- the need for effective communication has never been greater, or more challenging.
The obvious solution, of course, is to flip the switch to digital, transitioning face-to-face interactions into Zoom meetings and phone calls. But the relationship between a healthcare provider and a medical affairs team is not as simple as a meeting performed via videoconference.
The medical affairs/provider relationship has been reliant on face-to-face interactions for good reason. The information exchanged is complex, the conversation is nuanced, and successful interactions often depend on the medical affairs professionals’ ability to not only understand the details, but also read the room. Has the office been seeing a particularly high -- or low -- volume recently? Have there been any noteworthy patient engagements or adverse events? Have the lead physicians been under any undue stress? All of these are bits of intelligence that smart medical affairs team members pick up on in casual conversation with RNs, PAs and medical assistants before ever sitting down with a physician.
This in-person access will be sorely missed in a digital-only world, and replacing it will take more than just an e-mailed invite to a Zoom meeting. To succeed in the new world order of socially distant physician interaction, medical affairs teams will need to replace the intuition of in-person communications with the certainty of data.
Here’s where to start.
When engaging busy physicians during this crisis, it is critical that messages are personalized to their needs. There is a temptation when working within the realm of email and phone calls to conduct blanket outreach -- the modern day equivalent of a form letter that gets blasted to everyone -- but this is not the time for generic communications.
To truly break through and connect, digital communications need to be just as informed as practice dynamics thoughtfully assessed via on-the-ground, in-person interactions. This is where having the right data and insights can make all the difference in the world.
For example, by accessing practice-specific trends in recent patient volume, it is possible for medical affairs teams to get a precision-targeted read on the current state of affairs in that setting of care: A huge surge in flu-related symptoms? A massive drop-off in type 2 diabetes follow-ups? An inordinately high volume of referrals to specialists? These will all show up in the data, and those insights will provide remote medical affairs teams with the ability to deliver a more relevant message, tailored to the unique and timely needs of the clinician.
There are some practices that will be near-impossible to access right now. Many providers around the country have shifted their focus exclusively to COVID-19 related cases and will continue to operate in triage mode until we are through the peak of the crisis. This is a sad but necessary reality given the current state of the pandemic. Meanwhile, certain specialties have been temporarily sidelined, and still other practices remain relatively unaffected by the crisis -- for now.
Having the real-world data to know how the pandemic has impacted a clinician before a digital encounter is the key to efficient use of everyone’s time. Having a clear line of sight into what healthcare providers are experiencing right now is an important part of setting up a constructive conversation, rather than initiating an inadvertently tone-deaf outreach.
Fortunately, the tools exist today to parse trends in case load to efficiently target providers and align engagement to where the greatest level of opportunity and need exists.
Dynamic data and insights
COVID-19 is moving fast and affecting different parts of the country disproportionately. It’s also sending shock waves across nearly every field of medicine. Medical affairs teams operating solely via digital engagement need to have a precise read on what’s happening in different parts of the country on a real-time basis in order to tailor physician outreach that connects based on what providers are seeing as they are seeing it.
Last year’s stagnant analysis or engagement list is not enough. And, traditional approaches that lack insight into real-time clinical practice patterns and fast-evolving epidemiology are going to be increasingly insufficient. Insights from dynamic data will be key to effective digital engagement.
Putting the pieces together
There has been a lot of talk recently about how the COVID-19 crisis will accelerate a shift to digital that has been building for some time. It will. But it will take more than the flip of a switch.
Digital medical affairs interactions will need to be smarter, more timely and more informed in order to achieve parity with (or surpass) the best in-person meetings. The necessary tools exist today to address these emerging needs and leverage them to ensure successful interactions with providers under duress.