Applying Our In-Field Expertise in a New, Virtual World

By Asya Kogan, Executive Director, Field Medical, Oncology, Eisai





August 11, 2020

For a medical science liaison (MSL), being “in the field” isn’t what it used to be. Over the years, quite a lot has changed—and the past few months have certainly placed us all in a strange, new world. Historically, we’ve relied heavily on in-person engagements to build meaningful relationships with thought leaders.

So what do we do now that everything’s changed?
What expertise of the past can we call upon to help shape our success for the future?

Lately, I have given some thought to these questions, as well as to what it means to be a great MSL—regardless of the methods by which we’re able to communicate. My experience and collective industry knowledge have shaped my belief that an MSL must possess three core qualities and skills:

1. Scientific aptitude. It goes without saying that MSLs are expected to possess the knowledge of the therapeutic area in which they are working. But in order to stand out among all other MSLs in the field, they must be viewed as scientific peers and credible experts by HCPs. MSLs have to possess an unwavering understanding of the science and the data in order to effectively and appropriately demonstrate the relevance of that information to clinical practice and the company.

2. Business savvy. MSLs aren’t only responsible for sharing scientific information—they’re tasked with representing the company for which they work and balancing that with the various questions HCPs may have. They need to know the overall landscape of what’s going on and view their engagements through that prism when they interact with HCPs.

3. Great communication skills. Being a great communicator is an art that requires a high degree of emotional intelligence. More than being a good presenter, MSLs need to be able to read and feel the person they’re speaking with and adjust their communication style accordingly. Moreover, MSLs have to be in tune with the thought leaders’ interests to ensure information is delivered in a way that is meaningful to them. Also, MSLs have to listen for insights. Being a great communicator is truly the way to build trust and credibility in a relationship with an HCP and to uncover important insights for the company.

So in these unprecedented times, how do we shift from a system that was so heavily based on face-to-face interactions to a now-forced virtual environment—particularly within an industry that has historically given the most credence to in-person scientific exchange over anything else?

First, we have to let go of our expectations from the past and shift the way we approach new interactions. We need to be flexible and up our game through virtual alternatives. Going completely virtual requires a total change in the dynamics, the culture and the mindset around scientific interaction for MSLs. However, there’s no reason we can’t continue to demonstrate scientific aptitude, remain business savvy and still communicate effectively and compliantly through the use of various virtual tools—it will just take some getting used to.

Next, we need to creatively harness the in-field expertise we’ve built over the years with building, educating and managing field-based teams. Remember, although our HCP interactions have been primarily conducted in person, MSL-to-MSL engagement has relied heavily on virtual relationships due to distance and the field-based nature of the position. For years, we’ve had to build relationships with our colleagues and teams remotely, without the benefit of meeting in person. We’re accustomed to virtual one-on-one and team meetings, so it really shouldn’t be such a stretch to build on best practices and apply our learnings to HCP engagements. The basic principles here have always been common sense. We just have to build on them.

Lastly, we must understand that even after the pandemic subsides, the virtual component of engagement—be it telemedicine between a doctor and a patient or virtual scientific exchange between an MSL and HCP—will remain. We may be in an environment where we utilize both in-person and virtual engagement depending on a given situation.

We need to do our best and have the best intent in our hearts to connect with people in a meaningful way—regardless of the platform through which we do it.

As with any interpersonal relationship, there’s never a “one-size-fits-all” approach, and although the world is ever changing, we have the skills and experience we need to adjust accordingly. Together, let’s keep our minds and our virtual doors open. This new world is presenting us with an incredible opportunity to revolutionize and innovate methods of communicating with one another, and we’re up for that challenge. The future is now, and virtual engagements are here to stay.


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