Times May Change, but the Need for Medical Education Only Grows Stronger

By Luca Dezzani, Vice President, U.S. Medical Affairs, Oncology Business Group





August 24, 2020

In the wake of COVID-19, we were forced into a virtual world that, in many ways, we weren’t entirely ready for. We were asked to modify our behaviors, preferred ways of interaction changed, but our moral obligation to continue to provide the health care community with appropriate education and support for our medicines was still there, and it actually grew even stronger.

You see, as medical affairs professionals, we’ve got a tremendous responsibility to uphold in order to advance science and improve patient outcomes.

In 2019, we defined our priorities as a team. Through closely partnering with the health care community, we believe it’s our responsibility to:

Identify and fill data gaps strategically.

Through advisory boards and direct engagement with top thought leaders, we generate actionable insights, identify areas of unmet medical need, and help determine how to fill knowledge gaps in a clinically meaningful way (through clinical trials, real-world evidence, and independent research).

Educate and communicate effectively.

Through direct medical education, thought leader engagements, the support of continuing medical education (CME), and more, it’s our job to ensure health care professionals around the world have access to the information they need in order to make informed decisions for the patients they serve.

Go digital, boldly.

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, social media, and big data historically have not been part of the medical affairs armamentarium. We’re committed to changing that and fully leveraging digital technologies to better serve the health care community. It was almost a premonition we had, and when COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the world, this goal became an even higher priority for us.

1. Phase I: The Initial Response. First and foremost, we had to respond to what was happening around us: the pandemic. Never in our lives had we been faced with such a serious, unique, and frightening situation. In an instant, everyone’s personal and professional lives were disrupted—as were our priorities. As a health care organization, our first thought was to ensure the well-being of our people—making sure that they and their families were well and safe. Our second step was to quickly mobilize to enable our teams to continue doing their jobs and functions within the organization so that together we could continue to support patients and their loved ones.

In doing this, we had to be mindful of the evolving concerns and challenges physicians now face. We knew there would be questions about COVID-19, particularly regarding Eisai’s products, such as: Is it safe to continue to use Eisai's products in patients who have the infection? Are oncology patients at higher risk of developing the infection? What data do we have to support that?

To address these extremely important questions, we developed response letters and resources that were immediately made available to health care professionals across the country upon request. We also trained the organization and our medical science liaisons (MSLs) to ensure they were equipped with the knowledge required to truly support physicians with questions they have during these uncertain times.

2. Phase II: Reimaging Our Role. After the initial shock of the situation began to subside, our next order of business was to address how to adapt and build upon our existing skill set within a new virtual framework. As medical affairs professionals at Eisai, we believe we have a moral responsibility to keep patients, caregivers, and health care professionals at the forefront of our efforts and to continue to provide appropriate medical education—regardless of the forum or physical distance.

We have vaulted 5 years forward in business digital adoption in a matter of around 8 weeks.

One of the realizations we had was that our technology and the infrastructure we had in place weren’t robust enough for this new mode of virtual engagement and virtual world. Furthermore, our people didn’t have the experience or skill set required to use these platforms—at least not in the beginning.

We also realized that we couldn’t determine how to best leverage new virtual resources within a vacuum. So, rather than trying to guess what we thought health care professionals wanted and needed, we asked them directly. We set up a COVID-19 advisory board with health care professionals specifically geared towards learning about their needs. We gathered critical insights about the information they wanted, how Eisai’s Medical Affairs team could best support them, their preferences with how and when to be contacted virtually, and more.

As a result, we began working on new tools and resources that we hadn’t considered necessary before—such as a website specifically devoted to medical information. Next, we had to digitize our data and engagement plans in an effort to join oncology experts around the world at virtual medical conferences such as the recent virtual ASCO meeting—a first for many of us. It was interesting to see how the scientific dialogue and debate on new key data releases moved on social media; therefore, we had to adapt our capabilities accordingly. We also learned that it was important to prioritize the support of digital independent medical education programs for on-demand use.

In reality, our COVID-19 insight-mining efforts enabled us to start building new resources and protocols that have ultimately improved the offerings of our Medical Department—going beyond the limitations of simply relying on face-to-face interactions like never before. We have vaulted 5 years forward in business digital adoption in a matter of about 8 weeks.

3. Phase III: Continuing to Drive Forward. We’re now at the most critical stage of all—a point at which we have the responsibility to keep up the great momentum and the progress we’ve made. We’ve already witnessed the incredible benefits of our new virtual reality. Technology has made it possible and more convenient to connect with health care professionals without the need, hassle, or cost of travel. Additionally, virtual platforms have enabled communications to reach a much larger audience base—and quickly. This doesn’t mean we won’t resume face-to-face engagements when we can; it just means that, through virtual channels, we now have the opportunity to continue to augment activities. We believe that the future of medical activities, from major conferences to smaller meetings, will likely be hybrid virtual and-in person to combine the best of both worlds.

So, as the world continues to open, let’s not go back to work; let’s go forward.

While we’re incredibly eager to return to the office and resume our in-person activities and efforts within the community, we have to keep an open mind. We love what we do, and we want to go back, but the reality is that maybe going back is not the right thing to do. We must go forward.

The real synergy and disruptive innovation are going to stem from combining the best of what we historically and traditionally have been doing with application of all the learnings and new technologies we are now exploring in this space. I’m excited for what the future holds. And as the need for medical education continues to grow over time, so must we.

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