July 14, 2024

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From Insights to Influence: The Expanding Role of Medical Information Teams

5 min read

Over the last decade, we have seen the role of medical information change. Once seen as “librarians” or places for new graduates to get into medical affairs, medical information teams have become a much more strategic function within life sciences that is gaining more focus, investment, and attracting experienced talent. However, even with this expanding perspective, medical information teams can be proactive in asking for a more prominent seat at the table to maximize their strategic role and demonstrate their value.

Direct communication with customers

A significant reason for the increasing role of medical information is that they are a vital customer-facing channel and one of the few teams, along with the field, that talk to customers daily. The number and kind of stakeholders they communicate with are expanding as well. The landscape is changing, and patients are helping to influence their treatment decisions. They want to be as informed as HCPs, and medical information teams play an essential role in communicating that knowledge with them effectively and compliantly.

Many medical information teams are looking at new ways to create and distribute more appropriate content for patient use. For instance, one top ten biopharma company has invested in plain language capabilities which take the intricate details of the response information to a basic level to ensure understanding. They are also re-looking at existing content to use with patients.

For example, a patient might call with questions regarding the dietary restrictions for a specific medication, and the medical information team does not have any related content. However, they have an unbranded brochure on this topic that a brand team created and passed through commercial reviews. Is there any reason the medical information team couldn’t use that information to resolve the issue and prevent the patient from the frustration of being passed to a different call center?

Reservoir of data and insights

Because of their continued contact with customers, medical information teams are a vast reservoir of data and insights that medical affairs can use to influence strategy. Utilizing this information could even replace costly third-party research. These insights can readily impact three areas of strategy: product, channel, and content.

Impacting product strategy

By analyzing the details of recurring inquiries, medical affairs can identify gaps and make critical recommendations that might result in a label change. This modification can result in a dramatic drop in the number of questions and improve customer satisfaction overall as it reduces the effort of HCPs, pharmacists, and patients to find this information. They can make decisions much quicker by just reading the label. It also ensures patients are using the product safely.

Impacting channel strategy

Another area where medical information insights can impact strategy is analyzing and filling channel availability gaps. For example, there may be insufficient field medical liaisons to cover every region and meet with every KOL. If an HCP is trying to find an MSL to talk to and there isn’t one assigned to that territory, the medical information team could help fill that role. While this may require additional training for medical information teams, this group can often answer questions that the MSL might not even know. As the company’s global customer engagement executive states, “This is another example where medical information can bring additional value and be a strategic partner to cover gaps that frankly can’t be covered financially otherwise.”

Impacting content strategy

By answering the questions that regularly come into them, medical information teams can gain a deep understanding of common knowledge gaps. These insights can improve medical content to ensure it is accurate and that critical information is easy to find and addresses needs quickly. It is not only patients looking for more useful content but overtaxed HCPs. The executive continues, “It’s not that doctors can’t understand the information, but they’re so overwhelmed with information that they need it in a straightforward format where they can understand it. And so, what that’s translated into for us is changing how we approach our standard responses.”

Innovative medical information teams are looking at customer satisfaction and “effort” scores (how hard it is to find the information). It may take HCPs a long time to meticulously review large response letters to find the information they seek. Many med info teams are taking steps to improve the navigation of their content and creating more digestible, bitesize information to address questions, including a summary statement at the top with links back to the detailed information.

New areas to explore and new roles to play

Medical information teams are exploring a variety of communication channels and solutions to better support a new generation of digitally savvy physicians. Artificial intelligence, chatbots, or self-service portals may answer frequently asked questions in the future. Some are also looking at including the use of reactive on-demand “eMSLs.”

Federated approaches, such as phactMI, bring together multiple organizations to work as one unit and share best practices and research. Users can go to a portal and search for a product across all companies, making it easier for HCPs to quickly find the answer to their question, even if they don’t know the individual manufacturer. Sites like this empower HCPs to get the unbiased information they need quickly. A proponent of the group, the executive notes, “Physicians don’t even know the brand names. If you research, you find out they don’t know or care. What they want is quick and easy information. And their nirvana is a federated approach. They want to go to one place to find all the information that’s not biased.” The increased use of these sites also frees up medical information resources for more strategic activities.

Medical information should apply their deep understanding of customer needs to the early stages of developing medical strategy and planning for product launches. These teams need to understand and communicate the value they bring from an insights generation perspective and the overall narrative. “We talk to customers every single day,” the executive points out. “It’s what we do. And we provide fair and balanced information to our customers. Once people within medical planning or the global medical teams understand and appreciate this, invite yourself to these tables or conversations and be part of the trial teams. And once you’re there, people start to understand the value. And I can say within our organization, they absolutely do. They demand that we’re at the table instead of forcing ourselves to get a seat at the table.”

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