For Medical Affairs, the necessity is greater than ever to leverage and create relationships with physicians and other providers, as well as to engage strategically in seeking relevant and reliable information. With the ability to talk about off-label use with physicians upon request, the need for a trusted, accessible Medical Affairs organization to provide accurate and up-to-date information in a timely manner within communities is paramount.
Shifting Communication Patterns and Preferences
Tom Davis, MD, FAAFP, is principal of Tom Davis Consulting, a firm based in the St. Louis area. Increasing the value generated through interactions between pharmaceutical reps and clinicians has been a core focus of his business for the past 20 years.
“Off-label use of brand name meds are a common and important cost-saving ‘hack’ for patient and clinicians,” says Davis. Pharmaceutical companies “that can effectively create the required data and present it to clinicians in a compelling manner” will gain access to providers whose doors may have been shut to them in the past,” he says.
It’s a good time to make and nurture these connections. “The significant increase in employed clinicians has created an enormous but under-appreciated sociological shift concerning how clinicians collaborate,” Davis notes. More and more, he says, physicians are becoming isolated and are spending the bulk of their time in front of computers with less collaboration and fewer collegial interactions.
Opening the Door to Collaboration
Davis’ perspectives are supported by research. The Bain Front Line of Healthcare Survey notes that the two preferred sources of information by physicians are key opinion leaders (increasing 16 percent) and continuing medical education/conferences (up 23 percent). This aligns directly with Medical Affairs’ high level of trust among providers and their role as thought leaders in the pharma space.
So, what should you do to become more strategic in your physician networking practices?
Refining Your Networking Efforts
Chances are you’re already engaged in various networking efforts with physicians and other provider groups. Given physician preference for information attained through thought leaders and conferences, these should be your primary areas of focus.
Are you, and your company, familiar with the research interests of your local experts? Knowing who the top experts are for any indication, mechanism of action or drug class within your community is essential to have the most valuable scientific exchanges, particularly when off-label questions arise.
Here are a few questions to keep in mind before engaging the appropriate thought leaders:
- Are you consistently referencing (curating) relevant, timely and peer-reviewed science?
- Are you able to provide an unbiased cost-benefit analysis upon request?
- Are you up to date on your experts’ work? Not only publications, but every research grant, relevant presentation or even an important colleague’s work?
Keep in mind that answering these questions should be coordinated and organized around a strategy designed to achieve desired goals—in this case, educating and informing physicians about safe, proven and appropriate alternative uses for your products.
There are a wide range of opportunities to connect with physicians and other providers at conferences and medical meetings, even at the local level. For example, as an MSL covering cancer therapies in the Midwest for your organization, you may be asked to attend large conferences like ASCO. But are you attending the 2017 Fall Conference of the Missouri Oncology Society (MOS) as well? Do you know who will be there? Staying apprised of local medical meetings in advance and the emphasis of those meetings will prepare you for valuable exchanges with the local medical community.
In addition to attending events organized by others, you might also consider working with local thought leaders to organize speaking engagements tailored to the medical needs of the community. Invite patient groups and engage with folks in your presenters’ professional network (perhaps experts they have co-authored with) to begin to build your attendee list. These types of activities serve to further cement your role as a thought leader in your own right and as a trusted resource in the healthcare arena.
Understanding the preferences of physicians and other providers for receiving information and interacting with Medical Affairs professionals can help you pinpoint the most effective means of driving your own thought leadership and the reputation of your company and its products. But this type of thought leadership engagement should be considered a process, not an event. It takes time and multiple impressions for opinions to be formed. Becoming a trusted and informed member of your medical community is the key to strengthening these relationships.