4 ways technology can help medical affairs find critical insights

Medical affairs teams act as the bridge between the scientific and commercial sides of pharmaceutical organizations. While medical affairs teams of the past played a supportive and informational role, their responsibilities have grown exponentially over the last decade to encompass many more strategic duties. By incorporating technology into their workflows, they are able to find the critical insights needed in order to fulfill these newfound responsibilities.

These responsibilities, as defined in a recent Mckinsey report, now include; 

  • Medical field teams; many companies have teams of medical liaisons who are often field-based medical information specialists, who lead relationship management and communication of product information while providing in-depth drug and disease state information to healthcare providers, payors, and other medically-focused customers (e.g., regulators, institutional leaders). 
  • Post-launch drug safety and clinical trials; in some companies medical affairs handles drug safety, reviewing individual adverse event reports, aggregate adverse event statistics, and sometimes even talking with customers about drug safety. They can also be tasked with the planning and execution of phase IIIb/IV company-sponsored interventional and observational studies, and support of investigator-initiated studies. 
  • Medical information services; the scientists and physicians working in medical affairs generally act as disease experts. Activities range from educating department members, seeing that consumer questions are addressed, and providing informational services to healthcare providers in the community. 
  • Medical communications; including writing and support for peer-reviewed publications and other medical and scientific communications. They can also provide scientific input and expertise in designing and writing promotional materials and events. Medical affairs officers may also present relevant scientific information at marketing functions.
  • Medical education; including the planning and grant support for medical education to healthcare providers, and the training of internal teams (e.g., salesforce). 
  • Medical strategic activities; including the development and leadership of the medical-brand strategy for each product by medical directors, and collaboration with development, commercial, and others to shape the product’s cross-functional life-cycle strategy and planning. 
  • Health economics and outcomes-research (HEOR) activities; including research and communications related to product value (e.g., product value dossiers, patient-related outcomes, health technology assessments).
  • Regulatory review; medical affairs work with regulatory affairs and the legal department to ensure that all written documents are accurate and adhere to the guidelines mandated by regulators. They also formulate publications plans, and the reporting of pivotal trial results to regulators, both at scientific meetings and through journal articles.

With expanding responsibilities, comes an equivalent need for detailed and specific information delivery, to ensure medical affairs teams are able to continue meeting their strategic requirements. 

Consider the diverse information sets that these teams would need to regularly analyze to ensure they’re keeping on top of their roles… regulatory bodies, drug pipeline data, clinical trials information, medical and scientific journals, commercial information, market trends, competitor news, and much more.

This, however, coupled with increasing information availability, presents a real challenge to these teams. How are they expected to keep on top of these critical insights, without getting swamped by information noise and irrelevance?

The key is technology… but not just any. “Technology,” as Robert Stevens, Head of Digital Strategy and Medical Innovation, at Novartis defines it, “that is proactive, not reactive.” This is technology that meets the needs of the many and the few; can be detailed yet succinct; is predictive and is personalized. Specifically, for medical affairs teams, we think this type of technology needs to be broken down into four key categories:

1) Keeping pace with the ever-changing landscape

Information is ever-changing, and intelligence is nothing if it is not timely- whether it be scientific information, regulatory changes, commercial insights, economic factors, and so on. The critical point is, a proactive technology ensures that the intelligence medical affairs teams need is made accessible to them, as it happens.

2) Visualization for clarity

Proactive technology looks at turning raw information into digestible and tractable details that make a difference in an organization and its decision-making. Medical affairs teams in particular need to be able to both understand and present huge sets of information to a variety of audiences. Because of this, an innovation that can ensure these teams are able to deliver this information in an accessible format is key. 

3) Centralizing and streamlining databases

The information sources that a medical affairs team need to canvas/consult are vast. By enriching these databases with leading AI technologies and semantic indexing, and unifying these in a single location, these teams no longer have to search across multiple databases to get a full picture of their landscape. Instead, this can be done from one place, saving them valuable time in identifying and reacting to truly relevant data.

4) Intelligence in the hands of those who need it

While it’s critical medical affairs teams have the right information they need, a significant portion of their responsibilities involves ensuring other stakeholders are similarly informed of ongoing market changes, etc. Whether it’s to meet their workflow priorities or that of their stakeholders, a successful solution will provide the intelligence needed, in the format that suits all – from real-time alerts to curated newsletters, to centralized information portals, to API integrations, and much more.

Medical affairs teams face an uphill battle when it comes to their increasing responsibilities and the challenges ahead of them, such as information overload. Acting as the bridge between the scientific and commercial sides of the industry means these teams are being pulled every which way. They need help – and technology is the answer. With the right, innovative, and proactive technology solutions in place, medical affairs teams are free to continue to play the pivotal role they do in the pharmaceutical industry.