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Transitioning from planning to a successful implementation of your medical omnichannel strategy

5 Nov 2022

“Omnichannel” is one of the most trending buzzwords in the life sciences industry today! While most organizations either want to implement it, or have been planning for it, very few leaders have been successful so far. For the benefit of anyone not very familiar with the term- “omnichannel” approaches focus on delivering consistent, personalized experiences across channels and devices. It has been implemented by other industries quite some back, and the life sciences industry is playing catch up.

Within life sciences, commercial functions have taken a lead here in using omnichannel for various sales and marketing activities. Talking specifically about Medical affairs in life sciences, a 2021 survey, commissioned by the Medical Affairs Digital Strategy Council to explore digital evolution through the lens of Medical Affairs, revealed that only 27% of respondents had implemented a multichannel/omnichannel medical strategy and the rest were planning to do so (Figure 1). While organizations recognize that customers value an intuitive and effortless experience when interacting with medical affairs functions, the progress is slower than expected!

Figure 1: Status of implementing Medical Omnichannel in Medical Affairs at a global level
Source: Survey by Medical Affairs Digital Strategy Council

As more companies move towards adopting and implementing a technology ecosystem that is built for delivering omnichannel experiences, implementing it right will be a key differentiator.

At the Indegene Digital Summit 2022, industry experts from AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Roche shared insights about:

  • the real business value that can be derived from medical omnichannel
  • how to implement medical affairs omnichannel strategies within your organization
  • measuring the success from medical omnichannel initiatives

Omnichannel – what does it mean for Medical Affairs?

Omnichannel for commercial functions is about providing seamless experiences with the end goal of promoting products. For medical affairs, the objective is to share scientific and non-promotional information in a seamless manner, through various channels such as Medical Information websites, Emails, Phone calls, Chatbots, Congresses, Publications, Medical Science Liaison (MSL), and many more.

“So, when you think about omnichannel for medical, if you want to keep it simple and you really want to make those things happen, there's an awareness factor in making sure that people can find the information that we have, and find it in the way they want, where they want; there's an ease of finding that information.” says Michael Kavanaugh, Executive Director, Scientific Communications and Strategic Engagement at Boehringer Ingelheim.

Internal engagement and collaboration are key to sustaining this journey

The omnichannel journey is lengthy and can result in substantial changes in business operations. Adapting to the changes and sustaining through them needs some key considerations to ensure success. The first and most important hurdle to cross while embarking on this journey is buy-in from all internal stakeholders. And not just at the beginning, the leadership has to ensure all internal stakeholders are engaged throughout the journey, especially when the practical challenges have started to kick in, and tangible outcomes or success milestones are not necessarily visible.

“How can we help each individual colleague to understand what it means for his day-to-day reality, for his day-to-day work, sitting at the desk and doing what they have always done? This means providing inspiration and achieving this kind of behavioral shift towards more continuing additional space.” says Dr. Christian Velten, Strategic Lead - Digital Customer Experience at Roche.

“I think being able to get good at knowing the milestones in a way that non-digital natives will understand is important to keep the support and the momentum on a long-term journey like that. This is not what people are used to doing every day.” says Andrew Fariello, VP, Global Medical Capabilities, Oncology at AstraZeneca.

Internal collaboration is another key aspect to keep the omnichannel engine running. While the end goals for commercial and medical affairs teams are different, the larger objective still remains common – a better customer experience. The Healthcare Professional (HCP)or the patient looks at the overall experience derived from the organization and not from specific functions within the organization. Therefore, the idea is not to create separate omnichannel infrastructures and experiences within the organization but to collaborate in a business-integrated way, borrow ideas and inspiration wherever applicable, and align strategies toward the larger goal of customer experience.

Andrew goes on to add that “We can learn from where our customers are going and what they are seeking so that we can understand their perspectives better and that we can provide our services in a way that is more responsive to them and able to cut through the noise of all the other stuff that they are trying to deal with. So that's our goal is to try to have a single omni ecosystem.”

Maintain the right balance between customization and standardization

Regional regulations and cultural nuances add additional layers of complexity to core idea of personalization. Yet, when the rubber hits the road, leaders will need to look for a few aspects that can be standardized to maintain the balance between customization and efficiencies without hampering the experience. One way to look at it would be to standardize the processes or the larger architecture for omnichannel, which can allow content to remain agile to deliver maximum value and impact. Modular content is one way to standardize the process of content creation in bite-sized packets that can be easily leveraged to create personalized final content pieces to suit the requirement and preferences of the end user and remain compliant with regional regulatory requirements.

“The most efficient way to go is to standardize everything, the most effective for our customers is to make it ultimately customizable. Where you sit in that balance between the two, that's the art of the whole thing and that becomes a bit difficult.” – Michael Kavanaugh

Measuring and communication value from omnichannel

During the panel discussion, we ran an audience poll to understand the key industry challenges to adoption of medical omnichannel. Interestingly, 44% of poll respondents said, “I can’t visualize what an omnichannel experience looks like in medical affairs – don’t know what to measure”.


Figure 2: Not knowing how to measure success is one of the key barriers to adoption of omnichannel

The lines between success and failure can get blurred when there are no visible milestones on the horizon. Unfortunately, there is no crystal ball here that can help us peak into the future! Which brings us to questions like – how does one measure success with omnichannel? How do we keep management’s trust in the project and ensure investment? How do we communicate value?

“Make it real. Communicate in a way that's in the context of the business, that's in the context of our colleagues, that's in the context of the day-to-day work, that's in the context of the disease and the therapy because that's where the experience happens at the end of the day. And focus on the impact and the value created for patients, for HCPs, for our affiliates, and for the global teams where at the end, HCPs and patients decide what is the most impactful and successful channel because those are the ones they use.” – Christian Velten

It is also worth noting that data and evidence-based measurement of success has become easier with digital taking precedence as the most used content consumption channel. Data analytics can provide a wealth of insights on reach, engagement levels, and end-user preferences, therefore enabling medical affairs teams to measure success, to constantly learn and improvise on their offerings.

At the end of the day, omnichannel is a long journey that requires collaboration amongst multiple functions, continuous efforts to learn the evolving behavior and preferences of HCPs and patients, constant improvisation and evolution, transparency, and buy-in from all stakeholders involved. Most importantly, the success and sustainability of an omnichannel strategy depend on a healthy balance between customization and standardization.