eyeforpharma Barcelona Conference VIRTUAL

Mar 30, 2020 - Apr 3, 2020, Barcelona

FREE TO ATTEND: Where pharma comes to life. The biggest and most important commercial pharma event in the world with over 2000 attendees across marketing, patient engagement, clinical, market access, medical affairs, commercial excellence, RWE, patient advocacy and digital health.

Invest in MSLs to reap bigger gains

To get the most from MSLs pharma needs to invest, measure and empower



 
If authenticity, data analysis and good customer rapport are the superpowers pharma needs most today, MSLs are the superheroes most able to wield them.
 
As the MSL’s role continues to evolve from a supporting to a far more strategic one, pharma companies have much to gain from getting the most from this ever more important set of colleagues.
 
Pharma therefore needs to invest in them and build MSLs’ skills and knowledge in new areas, helping them adapt to new ways of interacting and use new technologies that can magnify their impact, says Emma Booth, Director, Medical Capabilities, EU Medical, at Amgen. “We are asking MSLs to do more and more and in order to ensure they can do that, we need to invest in them.”
 
The benefits should be clear, says Booth. “We are in a unique position. We are the cornerstone. We can talk with internal and external stakeholders. We can reach more healthcare professionals and different external stakeholders than our partners can.”
 
Medical affairs will have to win that argument internally first. The challenges it faces include a lack of understanding by colleagues about MSLs role. The lack of representation at c-suite level and the fact that MSLs have traditionally fallen across a number of reporting structures, whether it be commercial or R&D, are also holding back MSLs from being deployed to best effect at a strategic and execution level.
 
Better performance through metrics?
Part of the reason for this perceived identity crisis and lack of support from senior management is the problematic way in which pharma companies measure MSL activity or fail to measure it at all.
 
Having their own set of robust metrics by which MSLs might be judged could help make their role clearer in the eyes of colleagues from other functions as well as focus their own efforts more effectively.
 
“For me one of the potential solutions is to have medical affairs metrics that are hard wired into the organisational DNA,” says Eddie Power, Vice President, North America, Medical Affairs, Hospital Business, Pfizer. “Traditionally in commercial or sales functions those metrics tend to be hard wired into an organisation in sales or numbers of prescriptions or profit.
 
“Similarly when we look at the R&D side, the metrics are also hard wired into the overall pharma DNA such as the number of molecules you bring from proof of concept into preclinical, the number you move into clinical and all subsequent phases.”
 
Choosing appropriate metrics by which to measure MSLs is not straightforward, however. “If you are a sales rep your reward is higher the higher your sales are,” says Power. “If an MSL is doing their job properly the reverse might be true as it might lead to lower prescriptions. The reward systems to recognise that are simply not in place.”
 
It is difficult to define strong and convincing metrics, says Andrés Stern, Medical Excellence Director, Europe, Novartis. “We are in a grey zone. It’s clear we have a key role in education and in management of compound safety but that is really difficult to measure. 
 
 
“For me insights are something that must be really taken onto consideration, insights that are translated into the ends of physicians and patients, because they feed strategy and tactics. We are starting to see this as something that is being taken into consideration.”
 
To do this will require an investment in appropriate systems and processes to capture the insights that have impact for HCPs and patients. “We need investment to create a robust and streamlined insights process where that information can be collated and synthesised and escalated to the region or the global arena,” says Booth. 
 
Pharma companies will also need to be able to create systems that encourage participation and engagement in them, Booth adds. “Otherwise you don’t show people how they benefitted the progression of a particular strategy or how they delivered the right solutions to HCPs and the risk is that they then they don’t buy into the system any more.
 
“It is critical that we provide the right systems that enable that. They must not be too manual, laborious or time consuming. They should be easy to use like an app where they can see an instant type of score, or they can see if there is a trend in a particular country or region. We are not there with the analytics to do that yet.”
 
Investing in MSLs
Money and other practicalities are further barriers to building such systems, says Booth. “We don’t have the same level of investment as our commercial partners. Things like external benchmarking or analysis of our field staff is a challenge because it is expensive to do and it is difficult to get engagement from physicians.”
 
One relatively inexpensive option might be for MSLs to lay out clearly defined annual plans with physicians and then self assess whether they have provided the information they need to serve patients better, but this too is problematic, says Booth. “It becomes very subjective and you then have to ask: Is it biased by the MSL’s interpretation?”
 
For Power the choice is essentially whether to use quantitative or qualitative metrics. “I use quantitative metrics for two reasons only. One, to make sure that since this is a customer facing role that the majority of their time is being spent externally. Often there tends to be internal creep where field-based colleagues become more engaged in internal processes that are often better left to other roles.
 
“The other is around strategic planning to get a sense of deployment. There is no reason why MSLs should be deployed on a geographically equal basis but rather where the key stakeholders are, and quantitative measures help show the presence is where it should be rather than just based on a map.
 
Pfizer is increasingly moving towards using qualitative metrics to try to assess impacts in two ways, says Power. “One is an impact or satisfaction survey after every engagement. We aggregate those and have algorithms to have a sense of what impact MSLs are having externally.
 
“We expect each MSL to come up with summary of demonstrated impact and we try and have at least one a month directionally, but we also share those on our internal websites to demonstrate what good should look like, sharing best practice.
 
“Just having a couple of examples of how we are trying to measure impact in a semi-qualitative way becomes a useful communication tool with relevant internal stakeholders, whether it is someone impacting current strategy or clinical development.”
 
Metrics that measure clearly defined objectives are not the only way pharma can help improve the quality of MSLs’ contribution.
 
A sense of purpose
In many cases pharma can benefit by giving MSLs a clearer sense of purpose and focus in their roles. This is partly achieved by ensuring they feel valued and have scope to grow professionally, says Booth. 
 
“One of the struggles we have with MSLs is that there is little opportunity for a career pathway or progression. We can invest in their skills and capabilities and reward them for building knowledge, whether that is becoming a coach or a digital expert, helping to empower them and see their own value.”
 
The line management of MSLs can be another obstacle here, says Booth. “MSLs are reporting into people who are not necessarily field focused or who have not had that role or any experience of it. They may not have the experience to coach and to provide that functional excellence. We have to find ways around that and invest in our first line mangers and hold them accountable to ensure they support their teams well and not set them up for failure.”
 
Investing in MSLs’ broad commercial understanding is also an important way to hone their capabilities, says Power. “It is a critical capability for the MSL to understand the business of medicine and the business of healthcare. Most hospital and healthcare systems are predicated on value and cost effectiveness. It is essential that MSLs understand all of that and have requisite business acumen to be successful within an organisation.”
 
A focus on effectiveness without crossing any commercial red lines will only help achieve more. “We need to think about how we plan interactions more and think about them more strategically and prioritise interactions,” says Booth. 
 
“In the end we all work for companies that are for profit. Having the right intent in mind is important. For MSLs the days are gone when it is just about building a relationship and talking about science. They have to be part of something bigger.”

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eyeforpharma Barcelona Conference VIRTUAL

Mar 30, 2020 - Apr 3, 2020, Barcelona

FREE TO ATTEND: Where pharma comes to life. The biggest and most important commercial pharma event in the world with over 2000 attendees across marketing, patient engagement, clinical, market access, medical affairs, commercial excellence, RWE, patient advocacy and digital health.

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