Sunil John co-wrote this post with Sarah Jarvis
Over the years, pharmaceutical companies’ medical affairs organizations have continued to grow not only in size but also in scope. Now, medical affairs groups are being leveraged as key strategic partners, and they’re being tapped for everything from generating real-world evidence to engaging patient advocacy groups to HEOR research. As a result, pharma companies are increasing their investment in medical affairs organizations: ZS’s 2018 Medical Affairs Outlook Report, which surveyed more than 100 medical affairs personnel from 45-plus companies, validated this fact. This is also evident from the growing presence of new field roles, including field-based HEOR and payer liaison roles (more than 50% of respondents plan to include these roles in the future), nurse educators and patient advocacy group engagement roles.
Medical affairs organizations’ rise in prominence and expanding list of stakeholders is happening alongside a rapidly evolving healthcare ecosystem with a growing need for specialized knowledge. As medical affairs groups engage with newer stakeholders, their highest priorities are meeting unique customer needs and cultivating customized skill sets. Based on the findings from our study, we’ve identified four key trends that shed light on the current state of medical affairs:
- Lack of collaboration is the biggest barrier to success. Based on the findings from our report, there’s a strong intent to collaborate, especially from HQ-based and global teams—about 70% of respondents mentioned this need—but collaboration often falls short in practice. The major challenge is finding the right balance with compliance: Study participants cited issues with compliance and guidelines as the biggest challenge to collaboration with teams outside of medical affairs. This could be a result of different interpretations of the permitted degree of appropriate collaboration, thereby creating silos. Interestingly, respondents also cited that beyond compliance, misunderstanding of roles is the second-biggest barrier to success.
- HCP needs may be shifting. MSL access to HCPs has generally remained consistent over the years: 50% of respondents cite no change in access, according to our study. However, in parallel, sales reps’ access to HCPs has declined over the past decade, and the declines have been higher in specialized areas like oncology. Such declines could signal a shift in HCP needs, with a growing preference for receiving customized scientific information.
- Medical affairs organizations’ priorities continue to become more strategic. Close to half of MSLs’ training time is spent on customer centricity and value-based discussions; activities within these areas are now falling under the purview of MSLs. Recruitment, onboarding and training remain the key areas of focus for field medical leadership. Our study revealed an overall duration of approximately four months to recruit MSLs, although recruitment took slightly longer in the U.S. compared to other countries.
- Pharma companies have room to improve when it comes to measuring success. Most pharma companies define the success of medical affairs organizations via traditional methods: 85% of survey respondents cited the number of unique KOLs or HCPs visited as a key metric, and 64% cited the completion of compliance training. Beyond these two, there is more variation in how to measure the impact of field medical teams, with less than half tracking things like customer knowledge and satisfaction, responsiveness of MSLs, internal team support or clinical trial support.
Overall, our findings show that operating cross-functionally is hugely important to the success of a medical affairs organization, but barriers to collaboration persist, especially when it comes to communication, alignment and compliance. Also, the changing dynamics of field medical roles and activities call for specialized skills while utilizing the right metrics for assessment. All of these factors suggest that the only way forward is for medical affairs to come of “AGE”—that is, to assess, grow and evolve.