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MSL as a lead to better physician and patient engagement

Medical Science Liaisons (often complemented by the word ‘Field-Based‘) have already forged their way in healthcare, pharmaceutical and biotechnological industries. Having initially started off as an American invention, MSLs have already gained a global demand and a certain kind of a reputation as pharmacologists with a mixture of business and medical degrees who come into direct communication with HCP’s and their supporting crew. Let us explore the subject matter of an emerging role of MSL’s for ensuring doctor’s and patient’s connection at a deeper level.

The “soft power” of marketing?

First, let’s get the most crucial thing straight about what MSLs are not – these people are not Medical Advisors, nor are they Sales Representatives. Only on the pretext on largely cooperating with pharma sales and marketing teams, MSL should not be considered equal to the salesmen in doctor’s clothing. Before reading further, it is important to guard against bias temptation that MSLs and sales reps are effectively just a ‘good cop – bad cop’ unit with a single goal – sell the pill. One should know better than that to define this new position as merely next generation salesforce or endangering-replacing-upgrading-advancing salesforce.

MSL’s functions have evolved from a mostly internal need of a binding thread between sales/marketing teams and R&D, to an external, more engaging one of supporting clinical trials and market launch. And the demand for the evolution of these functions was not self-(read: marketing) induced. It was in no small part a demand for objectivity coming from the outside (read: physicians and patients). But — we are getting ahead of ourselves at this point.

Being a valuable both in-sourced and outsourced resource, MSL’s are truly transforming the marketing crew in a way of putting full engagement as the primary objective. As Gary Killington, managing director at PI Partnership stated,

“… it’s [now] more about whether we have a cross-functional team that is able to communicate and work at all levels with a diverse healthcare system”.

And MSLs are now becoming an ever more important part of that team, oftentimes being at the core of marketing and sales strategy development.

Demand, core skills and functions

No matter whether the need for MSLs rose as an extension of the salesforce transformation process or some other reasons, the demand itself remains undeniable. Only, the demand coming from whom?

Although some of the tasks the MSLs carry out happen inside the  team – for instance, providing trainings for sales representatives on specialty drugs – most MSL competences are externally oriented – that is, grounded on their interactions with Key Opinion Leaders. Namely, Medical Science Liaisons satisfy demands coming from 2 stakeholders – fulfilling both transformed physicians’ and the rising patients’ demand.

For physicians / KOLs:

Medical Science Liaisons handle explaining and discussing complex drugs and “simple” ones as well, when the latter enter novel therapeutic areas. Increasing awareness among KOLs about complex specialty drugs and local disease state are MSLs’ main scope of activity and this activity is effective. Despite the lack of KOLs’ time, field-based Medical Science Liaisons have shown great success at gaining access to physicians that will usually not wish to see a sales representative. Why do physicians fuel the demand for MSL?

Doctors now value indepth conversations about disease state, especially with company representatives that are an equal match in terms of scientific competence and interests. KOLs tend to refuse ‘informercials’ aka biased scientific info and strive to talk to someone who is not product but research oriented, not promotional but educational, and who provides KOL with a trusted connection to the company. Thus, the expectation on MSLs is that they would be able to communicate their company’s position as well as provide objective competence for discussed scientific issues.

Another way how Key Opinion Leaders remain at the epicenter of MSLs functions is common activities Liaisons organize for and with KOLs. They invite physicians to participate as experts in conferences, organized by the respective companies thus providing a platform for discussion and establishing connections with their KOLs. Therefore, MSLs are shifting corporate priorities to support customer needs related to the products, therapeutic areas and disease states instead of introducing and pushing the new complex drug.

Patrick Reilly, CEO of PhactMI, agrees, adding, “Medical liaisons play a key role, especially now that traditional sales reps are not enough. Products are more sophisticated and the science is different. MSLs are highly trained and scientifically based”.

For patients:

3 words – BETTER TRIAL RESULTS. Take for example a sub-division of MSL – CTL (Clinical Trial Liaisons) who have a task of providing support for physicians all the way through the drug trial period. They usually enter at stage II and prove to be an effective and expedient method of connecting physicians with appropriate studies. CTLs provide data and educate practitioners about emerging issues, as well as channel customer feedback (e.g. concerns, research ideas, relevant clinical vignettes, etc.) This results into a stronger voice for the patient and the disease state, especially for such complicated areas of research as oncology or neurology.

With better trials, MSL and CTL contribute to physician – patient relation with value and perspective and can bring about new opportunities and depth of engagement. They increase customer confidence and loyalty helping healthcare industry to thrive with stronger connection between pharma and the patient, and contributing to the industry’s overall shift to ‘orchestrated engagement’.

With the digital marketing revolution reaching pharma, there’s a noticeable corresponding shift on stakeholder’s base. Considering the grounded opinion that that by 2020, the patient will be the ultimate customer, the MSL’s functions are more than crucial in establishing a sustainable pharma—patient connection. And, all these educational activities give healthcare a real opportunity to gain its reputation back through the MSL bridge. Is this a chance to stop feeding industry’s condemnation of often noted correlations between levels of sales reps—doctors relationship and amounts of drug prescriptions? MSLs are truly a perspective for reliable, credible, balanced sources of drug information, which is, in the end, good for physicians and their patients alike.

Assess the value by asking the right questions

MSL’s are a much needed complementation responding to the rising needs of the industry in general and stakeholders in particular. Taking into account the conclusion that the main asset Medical Science Liaisons bring to pharma is understanding of customers’ needs and expectations, the question of assessing this asset arises. Seriously, what is the ultimate KPI of the MSL/CTL – KOL relationship? That might have been a little bit too many abbreviations per sentence to digest, but bear with us.

The easiest way to assess value MSLs deliver is by asking questions – in KOL surveys. Customer’s / stakeholder’s feedback is of paramount importance in MSL’s activities and by using surveys to get this feedback one can connect external customers to internal teams. In search for answers, there are lots of nuances to account for, such as how complicated the survey should be, which KOLs should it inquire or even whether the KOL has time and enthusiasm to fill in those blanks.

The art of asking the right questions will give you not only the glimpse into the MSL’s success on this particular project or launch, but also an overlook of what else your organization can do to satisfy needs of physicians, and ultimately, the patients. There is a handful of tools and methods of constructing surveys, and our team of experts can help your MSL team with those, should you wish to contact us.