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Medical Science Liaison in Pharma: Meaning, Role & KPIs

Pharmaceutical MSL as a Lead

It’s hard to deny that the most vital part of success in communication is to be on the same level of acknowledgment and engagement with an interlocutor. The same rule works perfectly for business messages. 

Suppose the brand targets all the awareness levels of its audience. In that case, the chance of getting better conversion increases with each interaction. Customers need to feel qualified in their choices, which is especially important for such complex industries as Pharma. 

Historically, pharmaceutical companies primarily relied on sales representatives to promote their products to healthcare professionals. However, as medicine advanced and treatments became more specialized, a need arose for individuals who could provide in-depth scientific knowledge and engage in meaningful scientific exchange with physicians and researchers, who are called MSLs. So, what does MSL stand for in Pharma? MSL is an abbreviation for Medical Science Liaisons, and their role is crucial within the industry. What is MSL in medical terms, and what do they do? Learn more from our guide. 

What Is MSL in Pharma? 

An MSL, or a Pharmaceutical Medical Science Liaison, is an individual whose job is to maintain clear communication and relationships with the medical community. They provide healthcare professionals with valuable insights and essential information on the proper use of certain products and services when treating patients. While MSLs do work on behalf of different pharmaceutical companies, their job is not to promote but to educate and assist providers. 

Every pharmacy MSL is a highly educated expert, most likely with a postgraduate degree. In most companies, it is a requirement for all professionals applying for this position to hold at least a master’s degree, PhD, or its equivalent. A deep understanding of the pharmaceutical industry and hands-on experience enable MSLs to stay updated on the latest changes and advancements in their chosen field, making communication with key opinion leaders and doctors much more efficient. 

An MSL is a field worker, so most of their daily routine is external communication with KOLs and physicians. Being more research-oriented and science-savvy, they are perfect conversationalists for those who, for some reason, refuse to build a dialog with sales reps. 

The scientific background of MSLs allows one to discuss more complex cases and facilitate the exchange of scientific knowledge and insights. HCPs can provide more meaningful and in-depth feedback on local disease states, clinical experiences, and treatment challenges they face. This feedback is vital for pharmaceutical research and development efforts and the design of clinical trials, as it ultimately leads to the development of more effective and relevant therapies. 

By establishing themselves as trusted sources of objective competence and scientific expertise, MSLs can effectively address the needs and preferences of KOLs and physicians. Physicians, in particular, value in-depth conversations about disease states with company representatives who possess equal scientific competence and interests. They seek interactions with MSLs who are not focused on product promotion but are research-oriented and provide educational insights. 

Through collaborative discussions, MSLs can communicate their company’s position while providing objective competence on discussed scientific issues. This approach aligns with the expectations of KOLs and physicians who strive for unbiased scientific information and trusted connections with pharmaceutical companies. By nurturing these collaborative relationships, MSLs can establish themselves as invaluable intermediaries, fostering a mutual understanding and trust between the medical community and the pharmaceutical industry. 

How to Measure MSL Performance? 

As the primary goal of an MSL is not sales but to raise awareness, it may take a lot of work to define the necessary KPI. Pharmaceutical companies and organizations may have different priorities and focus areas, leading to various performance indicators. 

For example, an organization that aims to increase the adoption of a specific drug in the market may prioritize KPIs related to KOL engagement and thought leader development. They would want their MSLs to establish strong relationships with influential KOLs, engage them in scientific discussions, and support their growth as thought leaders who can advocate for using the organization’s drug. 

On the other hand, an organization focused on scientific education and dissemination of information may emphasize KPIs related to scientific communication and education. They would want their MSLs to deliver impactful scientific presentations, provide educational materials to healthcare professionals, and conduct training sessions to enhance their therapeutic area’s understanding. 

Nevertheless, a few criteria would fit most of the pharmaceutical MSL cases. 

Medical Science Liaison: Key Performance Indicators 

KOL Interactions 

While the frequency and duration of calls demonstrate activity, longer meetings provide more time to discuss important topics. However, the accurate measure of success lies in the quality of the interaction. This can be evaluated by assessing how well your predefined insights were addressed during your meetings with KOLs. 

Medical Projects 

Key performance indicators for medical projects include the number of publications clinical studies to target, investigator-initiated studies executed within a specific timeframe, the number and quality of insights gathered from round table meetings, etc. 

MSL-KOL Satisfaction

Conduct a simple survey for KOLs to gain feedback to gauge interaction satisfaction. Ask them to rate the MSL in areas such as the quality of the interaction, effective use of time, knowledge level of the MSL, and follow-up on discussed topics. Also, providing an optional field for comments or suggestions allows one to get a straight response. 

MSL-Internal Stakeholders’ Satisfaction 

It is also great to conduct surveys among internal stakeholders. Conducting surveys following specific medical activities like sales rep training or completing medical education is expected. Utilizing a simple survey with a few questions and a scoring scale of 1-5 (not great to excellent), you can calculate the percentage of individuals scoring a 4 or 5.

A suggested KPI could be to achieve a score of over 80% in the 4-5 range.

What Are the Challenges of Implementing KPIs for Medical Service Liaisons? 

The main challenge in implementing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for MSLs is identifying the correct indicators that accurately demonstrate professionals’ efforts. This challenge arises because MSLs often assume different roles; while some may actively participate in clinical trials, others may concentrate on more personal interactions with key opinion leaders. KPIs for each Medical Science Liaison should differ, allowing progress tracking with individual obstacles and achievements in mind. MSL objectives should be realistic and tailored to the specific context of the area in which they operate. 

Another challenge is to find the best tool for KPI tracking. There is a lot of software to choose from. Still, the right one should offer a range of features that allow proper customization and personalization while guaranteeing data accuracy, safety, and opportunities for additional evaluation of MSLs. 

The main task of KPIs is to focus not so much on the MSL’s actions but on the results that professionals have achieved through their work. Companies can accomplish this by combining qualitative and quantitative metrics and using them to evaluate how well a medical service liaison performed during a set period. 

Medical Science Liaisons vs. Medical Representatives 

To better understand MSL’s role, let’s compare it with medical representatives’ routine. 

A Medical Representative, also known as a Sales Representative, is responsible for directly promoting and selling pharmaceutical products to healthcare professionals. They typically work in a sales-driven environment, and their main goal is to increase conversion by convincing healthcare professionals to prescribe or recommend certain medications. They provide information about the features, benefits, and potential uses of the products they represent. 

A pharma MSL, on the other hand, is a scientific and medical expert who acts as a bridge between pharmaceutical companies and the medical community. MSLs do not have a sales target. Their primary responsibility is establishing relationships with key opinion leaders (KOLs), such as doctors, researchers, and academic institutions. MSLs provide scientific and clinical information about their company’s products, present research findings, answer medical inquiries, and collaborate on clinical trials and studies. 

Medical Service Liaisons as Communicational Solution 

MSLs are an essential field force for bridging the gap between pharmaceutical companies and the medical community. Their role as scientific and medical experts allows them to engage in meaningful scientific exchange, gather valuable insights, and collaborate on clinical studies. By measuring their performance through KPIs such as quality of KOL interactions and project achievements, organizations can ensure their MSLs deliver objective expertise and foster trust between the medical community and the pharmaceutical industry. 

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