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A New Track for Scientific Exchange

Words by Isabel O’Brien

The transition from one period to another can bring about a spell of reflection, much like watching the countryside fly by from a train window. The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged medical affairs into one such transition, forcing them to switch track to virtual engagement tools to ensure ongoing scientific exchange in a time of crisis.

This switch has presented challenges, starting with morphing medical education from a physical to an online experience: “One of the major logistical and resource barriers to online external engagement is building targeted awareness, sharing of voice, and gaining attention in an environment where there is an abundance of noise, as nearly all engagements are going virtual,” says Mansi Jamindar, Associate Director, Global Medical Communications Lead, Sanofi Genzyme.

The webinar space in particular has erupted into a bustling, inner-city station. Whether a HCP is a cardiologist, a radiologist, or a rare disease specialist, there will be countless trains they can board to further their knowledge, creating a risk of potential participants being left behind, dazzled on the platform.

Cutting through this commotion is vital and attracting the right registrants can be done with a multichannel marketing strategy: “Targeted online HCP awareness campaigns include advertisements in relevant journals, sponsored social media, search engine optimisation, and third-party medical education site advertisements,” explains Jamindar.

Partnering with journals or medical education sites can be particularly useful, as this allows MA access to parties of already engaged databases of HCPs: “We’ve noticed a huge increase in the demand from both our clients and our subscribers for webinars during the COVID-19 period,” says Daniel Healy, Chief Commercial Officer, EMG-Health. “Collaborations of this nature are particularly impactful, in that we are able to get across a targeted message to HCPs, which is delivered by a selected expert in a particular area.”

The right experts must be procured to ensure high average time in spent session values, plus healthy poll and Q&A participation: “It’s important not to overuse one speaker and to have the right mix, by introducing up-and-coming ‘rising star’ speakers alongside,” says Kumaran Krishnan, Medical Affairs Director (Europe), Teva Pharmaceuticals.

An engaging subject is also crucial, with MA needing to balance its own interests with that of their prospective audience: “The topic may be an interesting one, however, if it has been discussed several times over, it might not attract an audience. Topics that are controversial and have a high debate potential are often ‘audience magnets’,” continues Krishnan.

Whilst medical education is one side of the exchange, the other is the gathering of insights, which has been given a virtual makeover. MA has been utilising the exciting new route of online discussion platforms to virtually obtain clinical knowledge from key opinion leaders: “Online discussion platforms are a powerful tool as they enable pharma companies to engage with external stakeholders asynchronously. This is a huge bonus for external stakeholders like HCPs, who are juggling hectic work schedules,” says Spencer Gore, Chief Executive Officer, EMG-Health.

This lack of timetable allows HCPs to come to these discussions in their own time; carefully consider questions, thoroughly evaluate data, and overall engage more deeply with a topic than they could during a live presentation. Whilst the number engaged is less, the opportunity for in-depth engagement with a topic is much higher.

Whilst there is much value, MA must be clued up on compliance, as any points will be submitted in writing, rather than verbally as they would be in a physical meeting. However with the right approach, this challenge can be easily overcome: “From a regulatory standpoint, these platforms can actually also be very beneficial. As long as MA successfully educate participating stakeholders on what is compliant and what is not, this actually makes it easier to prevent a conversation from heading in a non-compliant direction than it may be on a live discussion,” continues Gore.

One of the major logistical and resource barriers to online external engagement is building targeted awareness

Whilst MA is chugging down a rapidly evolving track, tools exist to facilitate the continuation of scientific exchange. Rather than thinking whimsically of the past, this virtual future and its challenges are to be embraced, with Jamindar concluding: “Online platforms provide an unsurpassed opportunity for global reach compared to live events, as they are unencumbered by logistical, travel, or HCP cost barriers.”

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