With innovation in the life sciences industry evolving at a rapid-fire pace, the quantity of generated data and new sources of data is skyrocketing. Now, more than ever before, stakeholders across the entire spectrum, including medical affairs teams, medical science liaisons (MSLs), key opinion leaders (KOLs), healthcare providers, scientists, and government agencies, have to access and analyze vast amounts of disparate data.

Today’s unprecedented times have only exacerbated the challenges associated with the dissemination of data in life sciences; easy access to the right data for better decision-making has gained in both criticality and prominence.

Mounds of Data and Multiple Data Sources: A Huge Challenge for Medical Affairs Stakeholders

This rings especially true in medical affairs, according to Dr. William Soliman, Founder & CEO of the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs (ACMA), the only accrediting body within the sector. Dr. Soliman has worked for years guiding medical affairs experts and regulators on how to ensure the integrity of data and the way it is used.

During a recent webinar with Coveo and FocalCXM, “Medical Affairs: How to Optimize and Accelerate Your Employee Experiences,” Dr. Soliman points out that life sciences organizations often struggle to find accurate information due to ever-evolving market conditions and collaboration across multiple siloed systems:

“Whether it’s the data we are going to share with a prospective KOL or the information we gather to derive a medical affairs strategy, all that information needs to be audited and documented properly. […] And most importantly, there needs to be a single source of truth for that information and data. 

“Oftentimes, what I saw when I worked in the industry was that there were several kinds of disparate sources of information. And unfortunately, oftentimes, they were not aligned. […] The data repository and those datasets were not aligned—and we were getting different information. And that’s actually a major compliance risk,” he says.

What’s more, with extremely busy medical affairs stakeholders, the sheer quantity and types of data can be difficult, if not impossible, to manage using traditional bibliometric methods. It is simply not tenable in the present-day environment.

Adithya Buddhavarapu, CXO and Co-Founder of FocalCXM, agrees. “Data is coming from various sources. Just the shape and form of the data […] that needs to be understood by medical affairs teams is extremely challenging. But then, how can medical affairs teams consume that data and make sense out of it? 

“Finding that relevant thing quickly so that they can address any questions in the field will be incredibly powerful as we move forward.”

Rise of a New Archetype of Medical Affairs Professionals Who Consume Content

Another trend that is on the uptick within the medical affairs sector is how professionals actually search for content. Buddhavarapu explains that a few years ago, McKinsey came up with four archetypes from a healthcare provider (HCP) and KOL perspective. What was particularly interesting about the segmentation model that McKinsey developed was that it revealed the rise of independent professionals who do not place as much value on interactions with pharmaceutical companies and rely on evidence-based material. This sharp increase in independents, contrary to stable or shrinking levels of relationship seekers, knowledge seekers, and transactionals, reflects how important it is for medical affairs, pharma companies, and MSLs to understand and provide the right content at the right time with the right tools.

“You know why [this trend] is so important? It is because one of the challenges that medical affairs face today is access,” argues Dr. Soliman. “If [stakeholders] are not providing value in the way KOLs want, they are going to limit access. Access is a big challenge. Being able to provide data in a quick turnaround time and more relevant to what they need […] is going to help companies increase their access to important KOLs. And that’s going to lead to presumably better relationships with KOLs and better opportunities to help medical affairs reach their goals.”

Dr. Soliman estimates that the role of medical affairs has grown 300% in the past 10 years—and is poised to continue booming by over 60% in the next few years. One of the reasons, from a US perspective, is that more than 65% of drugs that will be approved by the FDA will be specialty products, which means more reliance on medical affairs and MSLs. This is why there’s also a move towards credentialing medical affairs professionals. According to the ACMA, currently there are an estimated 10,000 Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialists worldwide.

As Dr. Soliman projects: “There is going to be a greater reliance on peer-to-peer exchange. And so again, access will play a really important role in the issue of providing relevant data.”

How Should Medical Affairs Teams, MSLs, and KOLs Adapt?

Buddhavarapu recommends that the entire life sciences sector collaborate and find solutions together. “There is a content problem, a delivery problem, a channel problem, and all types of things, but we need to be able to prioritize the biggest issues,” she says. Determining a ranked set of use cases and challenges, which can be adapted to different countries, is the first step in improving immediate access to actionable and relevant content.

The next step is to build the technological capability that can resolve the complex problems that have been identified—but not in a fragmented approach. The goal is to explore potential content delivery and discoverability platforms from a global and scalability perspective to support as many use cases as possible.

Considering the many forms, formats, and sources of data, it may initially appear impossible to connect them all into one platform. However, as Bonnie Chase, Director of Product at Coveo explains, relevance platforms do exist that can connect to existing systems without doing a major technology overhaul. These platforms, powered by artificial intelligence (AI) can provide precisely the type of personalization.

“Organizations are rolling out different tools to try to simplify the experience for their members and partners, which can sometimes make [the process] more difficult. Looking at AI as a way to bring all of those silos together is a key way for content delivery. If you can pull all of that together and then leverage the data to inform how that AI is going to distribute the content, […] you have a really sweet spot for using the two together.”

Buddhavarapu mentions that an ideal approach is to use a platform with a framework based on a natural language processing (NLP) application that can extract terms based on linguistic rules and word frequency. Machine learning, which capitalizes on vocabulary previously employed by end-users, can go a major step further to provide content that is even more contextually relevant.

But what about regulatory compliance in the medical affairs sector? As Chase puts it: “Permissions and security with the content must be aligned with the security and compliance regulations in the industry in general. […] Accuracy in the sector is really important; being able to capture the revision history and having a record of what was said six months ago to today is also critical.”

Dr. Soliman predicts that medical compliance will become increasingly front-and-center based on what’s happening in terms of processes, data generation, and digital technology.

“Compliance is now looking carefully to a greater degree at the competencies within medical affairs, making sure medical affairs professionals’ knowledge and functional skills are standardized. And they’re also looking at the information they collect and what they do with that information, effectively, credibly, and objectively.” He adds that no matter what platform is used, it is key for the medical affairs sector to maximize compliance when implementing new technologies.

What Does the Future Hold for Medical Affairs in Terms of Access to Relevant Information?

Buddhavarapu explains that access to accurate and up-to-date scientific knowledge is extremely critical for medical affairs teams.

“They need to be almost like data engineers, which is very challenging. They need to take all of this tremendous amount of content and then put it together in a meaningful way to make sense out of those data points, which are coming from research studies and the real world. And then, structure them in a presentable way for either the educational or scientific community. We really need to tie in all this content, data, and AI. To bring it to life is a very interesting challenge we are excited to be a part of.”

The speed of science and innovation within the healthcare industry requires a modern digital strategy and new solutions that will change the way the medical affairs ecosystem shares knowledge. Establishing partnerships between medical affairs and tech start-ups, according to a recent report in Pharmaceutical Medicine, could revolutionize the way healthcare data is analyzed.

Today, the sector has the opportunity to optimize the use of a wealth of data through purpose-focused analytics and AI—and enable domain experts to make better decisions.

McKinsey’s vision for the future of medical affairs is clear:

Medical-affairs teams, through their deep understanding of science, data capabilities, and their dialogue with stakeholders, will be well-positioned to understand how to seek the evidence required to support the entire life cycle of the offering to optimize patient outcomes.

To listen to the whole discussion, Medical Affairs: How to Optimize and Accelerate Your Employee Experiences, watch the recording now.

Transforming Relevance in Life SciencesMedical Affairs: How to Optimize and Accelerate Your Employee Experiences
Share this story:

About Tracey Batsford

Tracey-Lee has over 25 years of experience in marketing, communications, and business development in the high-tech sector. She is a born communicator who enjoys revealing the true value of technological solutions through her writing.

Read more from this author