Medical Affairs (MA) organizations increasingly define the experiences healthcare professionals (HCPs) have with pharmaceutical firms. With the rise of digital technologies, MA teams are realising they need to change how they think about and execute medical education, seek scientific advice, and engage with communities to discuss scientific advances and medical progress. In October 2021 DT Consulting, an Indegene company, launched the report `'Building Digital Capabilities In Medical Affairs For A Post-COVID Multichannel Reality`' exploring how the core functions of Medical Affairs would be significantly enhanced and facilitated by digital technologies. The report was authored by me along with my colleagues Sandeep Gantotti, Tim van Tongeren, and Kay Uttech. The white paper identifies twelve main capabilities, both customer facing and internal, that if implemented would deliver significant benefits not only to MA departments but to the organization overall (Figure 1).
Based on these capabilities DT Consulting and Indegene developed a Digital Excellence Maturity Assessment survey specific for Medical Affairs. This novel research examined how 15 (S)VP’s (HQ-level) at large pharmaceutical companies perceive the current State of Digital Transformation in their Medical Affairs operations. These executives, responsible for global Medical Affairs excellence for their companies, are in agreement on the importance of accelerating the adoption of digital technologies, changing Customer Experiences expectations of Patients, Physician and Payers, and to aligning their digital strategy to the digital strategy of other departments. The report shows the key benchmarking findings, including the digital maturity score related to each capability and company (Figure 2) while also highlighting the benefits and key steps to take, to achieve Digital Excellence in Medical Affairs, following DT’s Digital Excellence Maturity Model.
According to DT Consulting research, in addition to the improving medical affairs functions there are four key benefits for pharma companies overall in improving the digital maturity of medical affairs teams:
Take pharma customer experience (CX) to a new level. Reaching digital maturity in Medical Affairs will enable a hybrid customer model where digital, virtual, and face-to-face interactions coexist. A hybrid model will ensures that firms meet customer preferences, drive satisfaction and provide them growing and changing portfolios that enable scientific exchange with new or broader audiences. Ultimately, a hybrid model with fully integrated behind-the-scenes technologies and capabilities will enable organizations to focus on CX and direct resources to content and channels that engage customers.
Contribute to value-based patient-centric care. By touching a wider audience, MA enables a mechanism outside of formal research to identify insights to the optimal use of a product at a very early stage. As healthcare systems move to population health management and value-based care models linking payments to patient outcomes, drug performance, and value delivery, MA’s contribution will be crucial in disseminating all available data.
Realize the potential of next-gen therapies and orphan drugs. The sharp increase in regulatory approvals of next-generation treatments and orphan drugs is no guarantee that these treatments will find the right patients. Optimizing MSL engagement with HCPs and relevant stakeholders including payers and providers by employing multichannel medical strategies will be essential to reaching patients suitable for treatment at scale and on time.
Enable a data-driven organizational strategy. While the modern MA organization is already cross-functional—aligning disciplines in the biopharma value chain, including clinical research and commercial organizations—digital transformation will enable more meaningful collaboration. Digital capabilities and the data they generate will quickly lead to an understanding of industry needs and required organizational changes including efficient pipeline prioritization, acquisition strategies, and pricing models. With a seat at the table, MA will also take a more prominent role in steering pharma firms’ vision, objectives, and strategy.
While most medical affairs organizations increase their digital maturity via discrete activities spread across a region, some take a more disciplined approach, looking at it from the perspective of an operating model and longer-term roadmap. Two-thirds of pharma firms currently have such plans, even though about half are satisfied with their progress. Roadmaps fail if they don’t put people at the centre of the transformation —not recognizing that organizations, like humans, adopt change in different ways. DT Consulting Digital Excellence Maturity Model defines some key steps to assure that digital strategy goals are reached and maintained over time:
Assess: Bring the “why” to life to gain acceptance. First analyze the opportunity and craft a vision and story to bring it to life. Then get the support of local MA leaders, as most digital transformation comes to life at the customer level. Anticipate that few people on MA teams know the true meaning or potential of “digital” or “multichannel”—let alone can immerse themselves in a digital MA practice where a hybrid customer engagement model is stronger than separate field and communications strategies.
Launch: Foster understanding to gain commitment. Once MA teams understand the what and why of digital transformation, ensure that they are aligned and actively participate in the next stage, in which MA and its most important stakeholders craft a strategic plan and roadmap. The plan adds detail around the objectives, expected results, timelines, and organization; the roadmap shows what affiliates must do to change people’s responsibilities, company processes, and technology use.
Accelerate: Encourage change behavior to onboard others. Enabling digital capabilities and integrating a new operating model into MA teams’ daily work to drive digital excellence is a crucial challenge; it’s increasingly clear that firms must give people the tools, time, and support to adopt new capabilities. Skilled talent and support infrastructure, need to be supported by governance—making clear who owns and is accountable for what piece of the change—to maintaining a steady pace of change.
Optimize: Fine-tune transformation artifacts and sustaining the change. MA teams now have a hybrid customer engagement model, an operating model for working with execution partners, a strategic measurement framework, and a tech rollout plan. As the first affiliates adopt these, cracks may appear or performance results may indicate difficulties in reaching their goals. The solution lies in additional training on the customer engagement model, feedback loops to fine-tune the operating model, and additional support on tech implementation and adoption. An annual check against a digital maturity model can surface wider issues and show how well the organization is progressing—the fuel that keeps people pushing towards a more impactful role for digital in MA.