Digital transformation and medical affairs: how do the two marry up?

There’s no way around it – to realise its true strategic value, medical affairs needs to go digital. But what does that even mean? And what exactly can digital transformation deliver?

By David Williams and Anna Longjaloux

There’s no way around it – to realise its true strategic value, medical affairs needs to go digital. But what does that even mean? And what exactly can digital transformation deliver? 

While medical affairs teams serve an incredibly important function in providing healthcare professionals (HCPs) with the information they need to effectively use a product, at VISFO we think what is critical is the information that is brought back from the field. It’s a two-way process, and collecting data is only the first step. Collecting data isn’t understanding it. To be useful, data needs to be analysed in a way that produces actionable insights. 

But with teams now having to swim through an ever-growing deluge of information, how can teams gather and synthesise insights and serve that back to generate actions?

By going digital. 

Defining ‘digital’

What does ‘digital’ mean today? And how will it help teams shift from hearing to listening

Going digital today means ‘digital transformation’. And what digital transformation is not is the application of digital technologies to existing processes. It’s not just moving ‘the old ways’ onto digital platforms or bringing an iPad. 

Digital transformation is the evolution of a business at its very core, enabling the application of omnichannel.

Wait, what’s omnichannel?

Omnichannel is a means to create a seamless experience across digital channels and in-person interactions. Distinct from ‘multichannel’, this approach aims to create a truly personalised experience through user feedback and analytics. In the context of medical affairs, this means communications based on individual HCP needs and preferences.

Precision engagement, with the right HCPs, through the right channels, with the right content, at the right time. 

Taking an omnichannel approach enables teams to actively listen and learn about their customers, ultimately allowing for an informed dialogue that is more likely to benefit business strategy. 

When it comes to medical affairs, a digitally transformed, agile, omnichannel approach offers a number of benefits, including:

1. Customised experiences

By tracking HCP interactions with digital content, a team can gather data on what types of content are most effective, which channels are most engaging, and what topics are of most interest. This information can then be used to optimise future contact and tailor content to better meet the needs of the individual. By demonstrating true understanding of HCP needs and challenges, these personalised experiences can also help teams build trust and credibility. 

2. Optimised data management

Digital transformation is helping companies process and analyse huge amounts of data from many different sources. By breaking data silos, human-centric artificial intelligence can help medical science liaisons quickly transform data into intelligence, bringing real-world, real-time digital insights and trends to the forefront. 

3. Impact analysis

Medical affairs teams are currently struggling to pull feedback from multiple sources and accurately measure the impact of their engagement efforts, making it difficult to optimise their approach and demonstrate value to stakeholders. New digital platforms with AI capabilities like natural language processing are able to crunch both structured and unstructured data, allowing teams to scope the true impact of their efforts and tailor follow-up interactions appropriately. 

At VISFO, we believe personalisation is key. HCPs are people with different interests, preferences and needs. So, to realise their true potential – to bring meaningful impact to healthcare strategy and clinical decision-making – medical affairs teams must move away from the old ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to key opinion leader engagement and communicate in terms that suit their target audience. And we think this means bidding farewell to the classic approach to HCP engagement (focused on delivering product information) and instead applying modern tools, capabilities and collaborators to facilitate an exchange. A conversation between partners. A conversation that leads to action and ultimately keeps pharmaceutical companies in the service of patients. 

And today, that means ‘digital’. 

And we’re here to help make it happen. 

Being brave

New software solutions leveraging AI, natural language processing and machine learning technologies have the power to elevate the insight generation process and ensure that HCPs receive information tailored to their wants and needs. The technical capability and know-how is out there and approaches utilising AI have been successfully adopted across retail, banking and hospitality – even in aspects of healthcare like drug discovery – so why not in medical affairs?

What is it that we need to push forward? What will distinguish the ‘conservative players’, the ‘AI explorers’ and the ‘digital adopters’?

Being the first is never easy – but this is where medical affairs needs to be brave, break the mould and think differently. A willing step forward is far more powerful than being pulled along.

Looking forward

There’s little doubt, partnerships between medical affairs, academia, software companies and digital health companies, including tech start-ups, will revolutionise the way healthcare data is collected, analysed and actioned (Bedenkov, 2021). By encouraging disruptive thinking, guiding teams through the continuously shifting digital landscape, and working collaboratively to deliver digital transformation to Big Pharma, such alliances will realise the true value of medical affairs. 

Pre-and post-launch engagement   Lasting HCP relationships Meaningful impact on clinical decision-making.

Pharmaceutical executives just need to decide on whether and with whom they want to start their AI journey and be prepared to take the plunge – or risk getting left behind. 

Blog author(s)

Anna Longjaloux

Principal Scientific Advisor