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Medical Science Liaisons Rise to the Challenge of COVID-19


Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers found themselves cut off from many of the traditional sources of medical education. 

No longer could physicians attend major medical meetings in person or gather for educational seminars. Furthermore, Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) – the Life Sciences industry’s traditional distributors of information about emerging new treatments and clinical information to the medical community – were unable to meet face-to-face with physicians or key opinion leaders.

Despite these challenges, though, MSLs have continued to play a key role delivering important medical information to physicians throughout the pandemic by leveraging digital communications and patient-level data to ensure providers were armed with the right information at the right time to support their patients. 

As a part of Komodo Health’s For the Health of It series, Dr. Aswin Chandrakantan, Chief Medical Officer at Komodo, shares his insights into how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Medical Science Liaisons and how they rose to the challenge. The following is an edited transcript:

Dr. Aswin Chandrakantan: Medical Science Liaisons provide a critical function to the medical industry. They help providers understand the different standards of care for specific therapeutic options for the patient segments they serve and ensure life-saving therapies get into the hands of patients at the right time, in the right care setting, with the right provider.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted all of that. 

Due to social distancing rules, MSLs could no longer meet face-to-face with providers, leading many technology-agnostic healthcare professionals to lose their connection to the outside world. 

That lack of direct contact posed a major hurdle to overcome: how could the industry and MSLs continue to provide important information at the right time despite COVID restrictions? 

At the same time, the MSL role has been made all the more important as the pandemic represented a crucial time for providers to have access to up-to-date medical information. For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic, there were telehealth access challenges both for providers and patients, and challenges related to understanding the standards of care around diseases that patients had, and how to handle a COVID-19 infection in the context of those comorbidities. Simultaneously, we saw a critical drop in the number of screenings for conditions like colon cancer and breast cancer during the pandemic. 

In light of this, Medical Affairs teams and industry leaders asked themselves: how can we ensure doctors are getting the information they need about life-saving therapies and delivering optimal outcomes to patients, even when patients aren’t coming into offices or aren’t getting tests done? 

Today, we're seeing MSLs take on a new role. They're becoming more about adherence to new treatment modalities that were not available previously. Through technology, MSLs deliver the latest scientific literature about comorbidities and the impact of COVID on vulnerable populations, and how to manage those populations effectively. 

MSLs have played a key role in the adoption of two key capabilities needed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  1. There was the adoption of new technology platforms by HCPs, which narrowed the gap between the provider and the patients they needed to see. Now, there is no difference between engaging with a provider in an academic setting using these technologies versus driving education and adoption around the right standards of care with a provider in a remote setting. 
  2. In this new world, MSLs are able to use, and are becoming more comfortable with, digital artifacts and education materials. And providers are engaging with these materials. 

One silver lining amid the pandemic is that the healthcare industry has built and adapted to the technologies and capabilities necessary to engage patients digitally – and patients have adapted to these technologies in order for them to get the ideal standard of care. 

And companies across the life sciences industry are able to use patient-level insights to support the right care, at the right time, in the right setting, with the right provider to drive the best possible outcomes for patients.

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