Four Ways the Medical Affairs Industry Has Adapted to Optimize Socially Distanced Engagements

By Tracey Cannova, Associate Medical Director, US Oncology Medical Affairs





July 27, 2020

Working in medical affairs is exciting and challenging. As the liaisons between various medical functions, medical affairs professionals have the opportunity to work on a wide variety of industry projects and initiatives—from the investigation and initiation of clinical trials to medical education, publications, and beyond. We often serve as the bridge that connects internal medical groups with external thought leaders—sitting right at the center and helping to build the overall medical strategy.

These days, that bridge is a virtual one.

Our new socially distanced reality has encouraged us to come up with new ways to connect with one another and evolve the way we interact with the health care community. And so far, we’re off to a promising start. Here are 4 ways we’ve already adapted to optimize socially distanced engagements:

1. We’ve evolved into a virtual world. Without the ability to meet in person, virtual meetings have become our new reality. To date, we’ve already transformed several advisory board meetings into virtual discussions in order to continue our critical work with oncology thought leaders from around the globe. We had originally hoped for live meetings, but as the post COVID-19 world began to unfold, we knew that going virtual was our best (and only) option.

What we’re learning is that the virtual environment works—just in different ways. Instead of sharing perspectives around a conference-room table, we’re sharing them through a screen. Technology has enabled us to interact with thought leaders in real time from the comfort of their homes. We can still conduct live workshop exercises and gauge initial reactions to data by broadcasting advisory boards from one centralized location. Computer video cameras have allowed us to engage face to face from afar. As with in-person engagements, the opportunities are endless.

2. Engagements have become adjusted for a virtual world. While it’s been a challenge, we’ve seen that it’s possible to cover a robust meeting agenda in a virtual environment. In our efforts to keep everyone engaged, we’ve shortened meetings while still being able to keep them focused and driven by discussion, which allows us to continue to obtain meaningful feedback from thought leaders. We’ve also seen tremendous willingness of thought leaders to attend live virtual sessions, now that in-person travel has been removed from the equation.

3. Our creativity is what captivates. Initially, transitioning from an in-person model to a virtual environment overnight seemed daunting, but in reality, it was a challenge we were driven to overcome. It’s a whole new world trying to keep people’s attention through a screen, and it requires creative ways to keep them engaged. We’ve had to redesign the way we approach discussions to solicit high-value feedback through sharing data and asking questions in a completely new way.

So far, we’ve tested a number of unique methods—from discussing patient cases and ranking answers on screen to giving different priorities to certain data endpoints. With less time for free-form discussion, we’re testing creative ways to generate insights through engaging virtual activities. We’re learning that keeping things fun and interactive helps captivate attendees’ attention while still enabling us to get the feedback we need.

4. Data are now more readily available to all. Thought-leader advisory board meetings and engagements aren’t the only things that have gone virtual—everything has, including conferences. In the past, health care and industry professionals had to travel to attend conventions in person, but in today’s world, that’s not an option. This has vastly increased the total number of people who can now gain direct access to late-breaking data and news with just a few clicks of a mouse.

While various medical and advocacy groups are still testing the waters to determine how to best augment virtual events, we’ve already seen impressive efforts by many organizations to offer virtual booths and live presentations in lieu of face-to-face symposia. These virtual alternatives also offer the ability to record original presentations for further distribution for those who can tune in later, at their leisure.

The truth of the matter is that in today’s world, the “new normal” is ever changing. For the foreseeable future, thought leaders will likely gravitate towards virtual engagements—regardless of how and when social distancing restrictions are loosened in certain regions. It’s important that we remain adaptable and continue to entrench ourselves in this new way of thinking and working. Together, we can strengthen the foundation of the virtual bridge that brings medical professionals together from around the world.