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Working Towards an Omnichannel Strategy in Medical Affairs​

Executive Summary
HCPs' behaviors are evolving and they are seeking a greater volume of educational and medical information from their pharma engagement. A great omnichannel strategy can help Medical Affairs elevate itself in the future and play a central role in delivering a great customer experience.
This opinion piece by the Medical Affairs Digital Strategy Council provides a recommended framework for building an omnichannel strategy in medical affairs organizations.

We live in a world of multi-screens and multi-channels, often starting an activity on one and finishing on another. As we transition from one touchpoint to another, we expect the experience to be seamless and connected. A break in the customer journey leads to poor customer experience and has a detrimental impact on customer perception and customer engagement. Healthcare Professionals (HCPs) and Key Opinions Leaders (KOLs) are increasingly expecting similar experiences regarding ease of engagement and awareness of previously communicated areas of interest, in their interactions with Medical Affairs teams. HCPs and KOLs engage with different functions in a biopharmaceutical company as part of their customer journey and they have varying preferences when it comes to channels, devices, content, and the time of engagement. As Medical Affairs teams build digital engagement strategies, there needs to be a well-defined strategy to replicate the superior customer experience that their customers are used to receiving from their non-pharma engagements with Netflix, Amazon, or Starbucks.
This is where multichannel and omnichannel approaches to engaging the customer become important. Although both approaches use multiple channels to engage the customer, they are very different when it comes to strategy and execution. This paper aims to break down the difference between multichannel and omnichannel approaches through the lens of Medical Affairs and calls out some key recommendations that Medical Affairs teams can consider as they go about building their omnichannel medical strategy.
So how does one define omnichannel strategy and how does it differ from multichannel strategy? Given that HCPs engage with multiple functions within a pharma company, should these strategies be defined at a functional level or be set at an organizational level?
Multichannel strategy is defined as the efforts required to draw up a multichannel medical customer engagement (MCE) plan, which consists of a set of tactics around channel selection, content, and activities with customers. An MCE plan aims to cast the net as wide as possible and cover all the possible channels to engage with the customers. However, more channels do not necessarily mean a better customer experience; rather, it can lead to a poor experience if the customer journey is fragmented.
Omnichannel strategy focuses on delivering a consistent, personalized experience across channels and devices regardless of who the customer is speaking to – medical leadership, Medical Science Liaison (MSL), marketing, and so on. An omnichannel strategy aims to ensure a seamless customer journey that is connected across various channels that the customer uses for engagement – both online and offline. In an omnichannel strategy, various functions collaborate and align to deliver on the single goal of ensuring a connected customer journey and moving the customer in the same direction. This requires them to integrate their data and analytics efforts to ensure that each function has a single- or 360-degree view of the customer.

State of multichannel and omnichannel adoption in medical affairs

The Medical Affairs Digital Strategy Council, a #FutureReadyHealthcare initiative orchestrated by Indegene, commissioned a survey in 2021 to explore digital evolution through the lens of Medical Affairs across 15 biopharma organizations. The survey highlighted that 27% of respondents had implemented a multichannel/omnichannel medical strategy and the rest were planning to do so (Figure 1). The data shows that Medical Affairs is taking substantial steps to implement either a multichannel or omnichannel strategy. While the speed of progress is slower than desired, Medical Affairs teams have realized the importance of an omnichannel strategy to deliver a personalized experience and achieve customer-centricity.
Figure 1: Status of implementing digital capabilities in Medical Affairs at a global level
Have you implemented the following digital capabilities at a global level?
© Aspirations vs Actuality – Medical Affairs Digital Strategy

How to Build an Omnichannel Strategy for Medical Affairs?

Define and have an in-depth knowledge of your customer
Set clear goals and stay focused
Build internal and external partnerships
Shift mindsets to manage change
Continuously measure and improve
Overcome knowledge-sharing barriers
Define and have an in-depth knowledge of your customer
Traditionally, the outreach by Medical Affairs was limited to KOLs. The rise in digital adoption has allowed Medical Affairs to engage a larger set of external stakeholders that was not possible before. Medical Affairs is now engaging with HCPs who are involved in solely clinical practice, payers, and even patient groups. So, is the Medical Affairs' customer the KOLs or does it also include the HCPs focused on clinical practice? Do the payers and patient groups also comprise the customer base for Medical Affairs? It is important to answer these questions before setting up the omnichannel strategy. An in-depth understanding of the customer will help define their needs and expectations as well as map their customer journey. Without these inputs, it would be difficult to seamlessly transition them from one touchpoint to the next without breaking the customer journey.
Once the customer is defined, it is important to establish the structure and signals that are needed to measure the engagement and set out the customer journey for each of these customers. A good understanding of the customers' expectations and motivations is needed as the customers traverse the customer journey across various channels and functions. According to a recent survey, 77% of HCPs are using digital channels primarily for Learning and Development (L&D) activities. The motivation to use digital channels for educational purposes is great news for Medical Affairs as their engagement with HCPs and KOLs is centered around information related to understanding disease states and treatments to assist HCPs in advancing patient care and optimizing outcomes. Medical Affairs is in a key position to fulfill this need; however, this will require Medical Affairs to move from a tactical mindset to a stakeholder-driven mindset, which is embedded in the omnichannel approach. By leveraging an effective content engine and a well-planned omnichannel strategy, Medical Affairs can consistently deliver what HCPs want across various touchpoints – digital or in-person.

We need to move away from a tactical driven mindset to a stakeholder driven mindset and understand their needs and preferences better

Fran Paradiso-Hardy

VP and Head of Medical Communications, Astellas Pharma

Set clear goals and stay focused

Although each function in a pharma organization might have its own approach to the use of channels, they must converge to form a common enterprise-wide objective. An omnichannel strategy that varies from one function to another will fail to deliver a superior and seamless customer experience. This is because a great experience while engaging with one function in the company can easily turn into a poor experience with another function if the transition in the customer journey is not correctly mapped. It is important to recognize that the customer will measure their omnichannel experience at an organizational level and not at a functional level. For example, the objective of the Medical Affairs omnichannel strategy revolves around a seamless delivery of accurate, unbiased, and up-to-date scientific knowledge, whereas the objective of the commercial function revolves around delivering content that informs HCPs about the attributes and features of a product. But for an HCP who is interacting with both the functions, a good experience with one function will not compensate for a poor experience with the other. While the experience might be bad with a particular function, the customer will associate the experience with the company itself.
While setting the goals and objectives for the omnichannel strategy, care should be taken to ensure that they are clearly defined and measurable. Otherwise, the omnichannel strategy can appear overwhelming and complicated, and functions would find it difficult to align their goals and objectives. Thus, partnership across functions is critical when it comes to delivering a great omnichannel experience at an enterprise-wide level. For this reason, an in-depth assessment should be done around the foundational elements that are needed for delivering a successful omnichannel experience. By assessing the current status of foundational elements such as data integration, content strategy, analytics, and insights generation, each function can assess its current maturity and lay down the steps needed to overcome the potential weak links in its omnichannel strategy.

Customers don’t always compartmentalize their engagements with a company into separate departments; rather they treat see the company as a single entity. It’s important to ensure that transition across functions is seamless and appropriately connected

David Tang

VP, Global Medical Operations, AbbVie

There should be a common enterprise-wide definition of omnichannel across functions so that functions can align to deliver on the common goal of delivering personalized customer experience

Andrew Fariello

VP, Global Medical Capabilities, Oncology, AstraZeneca

Build internal and external partnerships

While setting up goals, it is also important to define the measures of impact and how fast you want to achieve these goals. This will help the Medical Affairs teams to track progress and pivot when the situation demands making necessary changes. Once the goals are set, organizations need to ensure that they do not lose steam when it comes to execution. Each function has its own challenges when it comes to shifting from strategy mode to execution mode. For functions that are not digitally native, such as Medical Affairs, it is important to get the tactics right from the beginning. A strong partnership across functions is instrumental to rally everyone towards the common omnichannel goal. Each function should share its best practices along the customer journey with other functions to drive consistency across the organization. A strong culture combined with an agile way of operating can help in building an environment where teams are comfortable sharing best practices and common pitfalls with each other. However, it is important that functions contextualize best practices based on the customer journey and customer expectations. It is important that Medical Affairs also share their best practices with other functions such as IT, legal, and commercial. This will ensure that the Medical Affairs perspectives are also heard and are given a seat at the table when decisions regarding omnichannel are being taken at an organizational level.

Omnichannel provides Medical Affairs the opportunity to position themselves as innovative leaders. It should not shy away from sharing what is working with other functions

Meg Heim

President, Heim Global Consulting

Shift mindsets to manage change

Medical Affairs has historically lagged when it comes to digital adoption or having the right digital talent needed for transformational initiatives such as omnichannel. Given the nonbrand-centric nature of communication, it also struggles to showcase the value that it is generating for the customers through their medical engagement. Hence, a mindset shift along with an effective change management strategy is needed in Medical Affairs. Otherwise, Medical Affairs will struggle to establish the need and showcase the value of omnichannel while presenting its case to internal stakeholders. Team members should convey the needs and value in a manner that is simple, clear, and easy to understand for the internal stakeholders. Care should be taken so that strategy does not get lost in marketing or technical jargon. This will help in getting the buy-in from senior leadership as well as help in receiving the appropriate sign-offs and budgets on time. At the same time, senior leadership should understand that implementing an omnichannel strategy and realizing the outcomes is not a short-term exercise. It takes a considerable amount of effort and time to build an effective omnichannel strategy that delivers on its promise. Thus, they should manage their expectations when it comes to realizing the returns they seek from the omnichannel strategies.
Familiarity and comfort with technology, data governance, and business processes are essential for people who are responsible for planning and executing the omnichannel strategy within Medical Affairs. Getting behavioral data related to HCPs and KOLs has been traditionally challenging for Medical Affairs because of either bandwidth or technology-related challenges. Thus, organizations should invest in upskilling the Medical Affairs teams and ensure that their L&D needs are being met. At the same time, Medical Affairs should partner with other functions, such as commercial, to ensure that they can leverage the technology and analytics stack for gathering customer-related data and generating insights. A top-down approach to upskilling along with L&D is desired as it will help in sharing the omnichannel vision and best practices, communicating outcomes, and achieving economies of scale. Further, a test-and-learn approach can help in building and scaling the capabilities needed for executing the omnichannel strategy in a parallel manner.

The concept of omnichannel, which is about being customer focused and data-led should be embedded into every aspect of Medical Affairs

Jung Hyun Lee

Senior Director, Medical Information, AstraZeneca

Continuously measure and improve

Once the omnichannel strategy is defined, it is important to measure the progress at regular intervals. Functions should get together early in their omnichannel journey so KPIs can be aligned and contextualized for each function. For Medical Affairs, it is key to identify how to measure the impact of scientific communication and feed it back to the foundational elements of their omnichannel strategy. Based on the feedback and insights generated, it can then adapt the channel, content, and data strategy. A strong feedback loop will ensure that the right opportunities can be identified to improve the customer experience and drive practice change amongst the stakeholders of Medical Affairs. The feedback loop is enabled by investing in the right technology stack (CRM, Medical Inquiry Management, and others), culture, data analytics, and a content engine, which are needed to achieve the omnichannel vision.

Overcome knowledge-sharing barriers

A key challenge in ensuring the success of an omnichannel strategy is translating the learnings from a global to a local level or from one market to another. This is because omnichannel strategies are usually defined at a country level. Issues around legal, IT, regulatory, and commercial typically arise when translating the omnichannel strategy from one market to another market. Other challenges include building measurement frameworks that are applicable across markets and getting buy-in and alignment from global and local leaders. These challenges can be overcome by building a knowledge-sharing framework that can help disseminate the learnings from one market to another or from one function to another. By investing in such a knowledge-sharing framework, potential pitfalls for executing omnichannel strategies across various markets or functions can be identified in advance and necessary actions can be taken to overcome them.

Concluding thoughts

HCPs' behaviors are evolving and they are seeking a greater volume of educational and medical information from their pharma engagement. A great omnichannel strategy can help Medical Affairs elevate itself in the future and play a central role in delivering a great customer experience. Medical Affairs is uniquely positioned because of the non-promotional nature of their conversations with stakeholders such as KOLs, HCPs, payers, and patient groups. However, this can only be achieved by ensuring that Medical Affairs has a seat at the decision table involving technologies and processes related to an omnichannel strategy. Medical Affairs for their part should look at upskilling themselves to stay abreast of the latest technologies and business processes to capture, analyze, and disseminate information related to the customer.




The white paper is written by the following members of the Medical Affairs Digital Strategy with active contribution from:
Mary Alice Dwyer
Council Chair
VP, US, Synetic Life Sciences
Andrew Fariello
VP, Global Medical Capabilities, Oncology, AstraZeneca
David Tang
VP, Global Medical Operations, AbbVie
Fran Paradiso-Hardy
Vice President and Head of Medical Communications, Astellas Pharma
Jung Hyun Lee
Sr. Director, Medical Information, AstraZeneca
Meg Heim
Heim Global Consulting
Bill Strickland
VP, Medical Affairs, Elevar Therapeutics
Catrinel Galateanu
VP, Head of Global Medical Affairs, UCB
Deb Long
Sr. Vice President, Medical Affairs, Vertex
Dominick Albano
VP, Global Medical Information, Pfizer
Isma Benattia
VP, R&D Strategy and Operations, Amgen
Jennifer Riggins
Sr. Advisor, Global Medical Affairs, Eli Lilly
Michael Kavanaugh
Executive Director, Scientific Communications and Strategic Engagement, Boehringer Ingelheim
Ravi Tayi
Chief Medical Officer and Head of Global Medical Affairs, Endo Pharmaceuticals
Richard Swank
Executive Director and Head, US Medical Capabilities, Amgen
Rick Harms
Executive Director Medical Affairs, Merck
Robin Winter-Sperry
Global Field Medical Lead, Ipsen
Roy Palmer
Medical Innovation and Effectiveness Lead, Pfizer
Sarah Guadagno
Vice President, Global Medical Communications, Alexion Pharmaceuticals
Thierry Auperin
VP, Medical Communications and Training, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals
Writing support was provided by Anant Puranik, Kay Uttech, and Sameer Lal.
DISCLAIMER - The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this white paper belong solely to the authors, and not to their respective employers or any other organizations.