Three Critical Questions Medical Affairs Professionals Are Asking in Today’s World

By Caroline Ojaimi, Director, US Medical Affairs, Strategy and Operations





September 07, 2020

Caroline Ojaimi, Director, US Medical Affairs, Strategy and Operations

In late 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic, our Medical Affairs team at Eisai realigned our priorities. We agreed that it was time to drive innovation forward and explore new ways to engage. Our mission was to go digital, boldly. We knew that virtual and digital integration would be a critical aspect in moving forward in this fast-changing industry; slowly, we started putting plans in place to do so. The idea was inspiring, and we looked forward to the challenge.

And then, without warning, COVID-19 entered the scene. Its arrival abruptly accelerated our shift to a virtual reality before we had the chance to fully work through all the details. Instead of shifting to a digital world in a systematic way based on interest, we were thrust into the situation by necessity.

Immediately, we were faced with more questions than answers in this new socially distanced environment—the biggest being: how do we ensure success now that the landscape has changed so quickly? At the time, we were uncertain, but we were determined to figure it out.

Fortunately, in the past few months, we’ve had the opportunity to work through some of the initial growing pains of transforming the traditional in-person model into a virtual one. What we’ve learned is, regardless of how much progress we make, there will always be critical questions medical affairs professionals will need to address when it comes to advancing our work and efforts in today’s world.

Here are the top three questions that remain and what we’re doing to address them:

1. How do we keep up when things are changing so quickly?. With an influx of new, virtual technology and the changing ways health care professionals are practicing medicine, the shift is happening quickly. The fear is that the world will continue to move faster than we’re able to keep up, which will impact the way we adapt to meet the true needs of the industry. So how do we rapidly change without fully understanding best practices in order to move forward?

Solution: Embrace the virtual world with an open mind, and proceed carefully but not fearfully.

The truth is, medical affairs professionals have always played an integral role in providing education and support within the industry, and that hasn’t changed just because the technology has. Instead of fearing change, we need to embrace it—without letting worries about the unknown stifle our growth.

Yes, there will be growing pains and challenges along the way—but we can learn and grow from those opportunities.

At Eisai, we’ve really embraced this challenge and have begun to test a multitude of virtual tools that have enabled us to continue to deliver value to health care professionals. We’ve learned that some tools are excellent for hosting virtual ad boards, while others are better suited for one-on-one engagements. We’re still exploring various methods, and, through that process, our efforts will only become more effective.

2. How do we know that health care professionals will adapt to these changes?. While we’re working diligently to integrate new virtual tools and platforms, how do we know whether or not health care professionals are working in lockstep to do the same? Some of the methods and tools we’re embracing may work effectively for us, but if they’re not aligned with the evolving needs of the health care community, we could be missing the mark. How do we guarantee that our efforts are in line with where the industry is headed?

Solution: Take time to understand health care professionals’ evolving priorities—and remember, we’re all in this together.

What we learned quickly is that we’re not in this alone. When the pandemic forced us into a new, socially distanced reality, it affected us all. Just like medical affairs specialists, health care professionals have had to work through this new model. They’ve had to reinvent the way they treat patients, conduct research and interact with colleagues. This environment has become a universal “new normal” for everyone.

These days, everybody understands the need to be flexible. And, in life, there are never guarantees—but that shouldn’t stop us from innovating.

Through partnering closely with health care professionals, we’ve been adapting our approach based on their unique needs, the guidelines set forth by their institutions, and their evolving priorities. As social distancing restrictions begin to ease up in certain regions, we’ll continue to work closely with health care professionals to find a blended, hybrid approach incorporating virtual and in-person engagements that best suits their availability and interests. And, together, we can seamlessly shift our engagement model to a more flexible, supportive system that works for everyone.

3. In this new world, it’s easy to continue existing relationships, but how do we build genuine new connections?.Medical affairs professionals have historically relied on in-person engagements to build and sustain new relationships. In the “old” days, it was easy for a medical science liaison (MSL) or a field representative to be introduced to thought leaders or local health care professionals in person—particularly at conferences or other live events. But in this new, virtual world, it’s much more difficult to get introduced to new people, let alone build new relationships from afar, without the benefit of speaking in person. So how do we solve this unique challenge?

Solution: It’s time to get creative and remain adaptable.

This is an evolving challenge that we’re still actively working through. What we know for certain is that we need to get creative in our approach—whether it’s coming up with new ways to connect with thought leaders in our community, virtually or working more closely with, our existing partners and thought leaders to help build those connections remotely.

The benefit of the virtual realm is that it opens up the opportunity to reach a broader group of people in the comfort of their homes.

By making medical information and educational materials more available digitally, we have an excellent opportunity to reach more health care professionals than we did before. And when we augment digital outreach by offering more personalized, one-on-one follow-up solutions, we can link health care professionals directly to our experienced MSLs or field representatives so that we can start to build new relationships, regardless of physical distance.

As the world continues to evolve, virtual integration is here to stay. There will always be questions and there will always be challenges, and that’s okay. Questions and challenges simply fuel our passion to innovate and come up with even better solutions than we had before. While we’re excited and eager to get back to work, we’re more driven to go forward. It’s never been more important for us to maintain a sense of flexibility and consideration of the evolving needs of the health care community—particularly as the country continues to experience the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. And as we drive forward in our efforts to improve the medical affairs industry and its critical offerings, respecting and meeting the needs of health care professionals will be paramount to success.

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