Key factors for medical affairs to define and communicate

When you’re looking to position therapeutics against alternatives, it pays to know what matters most to stakeholders. That means starting with the end in mind — that is, with a clear understanding of how healthcare providers make decisions about which pharmaceutical or treatment option to use.

The Importance of Positioning

Especially when one or more treatments are available, strategically determining how to communicate about a product or technology so that it is widely understood that it answers an unmet need is essential.

To do this requires spending time doing two different but equally important things:

  • Identifying and researching competitors and their scientific imperatives. What do they say about their companies and their products in their scientific communications, on their websites, and in other public communications? What are they saying about yours?
  • Understanding the stakeholder. For Medical Affairs professionals, the audience is threefold: payers, clinicians and patients. Payers are looking for value. Clinicians will be seeking to meet both their needs and the needs of their patients.

To effectively position yourself will require both qualitative research (e.g., conducting literature reviews and adboards) and quantitative research (e.g., conducting surveys and analyzing data).

Critical Elements of Positioning

Positioning involves focusing on meaningful differences between your therapeutic and others. That is, you don’t want to convey how you’re the same as alternate therapeutic, but how you’re better — in ways that matter to the appropriate stakeholders.

James Chisum, vice president of Miller Geer & Associates, a healthcare public relations and marketing firm in Los Alamitos, California, recommends to “get out of your own head and seek to truly empathize with those you’re seeking to educate.”

When it comes to empathy, Chisum offers concrete advice on how to brainstorm the right imperatives. “When we embark on campaigns, we frequently begin with ‘if I were in this position, I would want to know…’ statements,” he says. He also recommends communicating expertise in a way that doesn’t condescend but instead meets the audience where they are.

Sure, it doesn’t hurt to show that you were the first to accomplish some benchmark, introduce a new technology, or develop a more advanced procedure. But as patients and healthcare professionals become increasingly savvy — primarily because of increasing costs — showcasing your specific value to them, relative to your competition, will be paramount.

What Matters to Your Stakeholders?

To position effectively against competitive offerings, you must make it more about healthcare providers and consumers — and lessabout you.

What matters to clinicians and administrators today? Positive patient outcomes, of course. But that’s not all. In an increasingly competitive and cost-conscious environment, value is also critical. “Value is now our central consideration when selecting specialty medications to be added to the formulary,” say the authors of Deciding Which Drugs Get Onto the Formulary: A Value-Based Approach.

Some of the factors that studies show influence physician prescribing are logical, but others may be surprising — or even concerning. In Factors That Influence Physicians’ Prescribing of Pharmaceuticals: A Literature Review, Andrew S. Gallan highlights several such factors that are highly influential on physician prescribing, including “peer influence, financial and managed care considerations, pharmaceutical representatives, drug samples, and direct-to-consumer advertising.”

Offering Proof

Healthcare providers are scientists, so even more than consumers, they are looking for proof before making decisions. Providers want to be confident that the treatments they advise or prescribe have been shown to be effective — not only in clinical trials but, increasingly, in practice as evidenced by real-world evidence (RWE).

The ability to provide proof points in easily accessible, quick to consume, and relevant ways is critically important — clinicians and healthcare administers are too busy to wade through tomes of material.