Key considerations for building a Medical Information function

One month in, and the year has started with fireworks, not literally, as this year’s fireworks in my city were cancelled, but in every other way. While companies were busy rethinking their strategies and organisations during the pandemic, it seems that 2023 is another year of reinvention. Wherever you are, whatever your goals this year, I hope you are off to a good start and, like myself, enjoying the buds that are starting to appear on the trees and bushes outside, heralding lighter days, and warmer weather.

 Topics for today’s blog are:

– How to demonstrate your ROI
– Considerations on building a medical information function
– My New Year’s resolutions
– Upcoming Medical Information conferences

How to Demonstrate your ROI

I was once interviewed by the team of a consulting company. The team was managing a merger between two pharmaceutical companies. They asked me to explain to them how Medical Affairs works and what MSLs, Medical Directors and Medical Information etc. do. The goal of our one-hour call, it transpired, was that they were trying to identify where they could reduce headcount, without impacting the business, to reduce costs for their client.

This experience reminded me that functions like Medical Information while universally accepted as necessary, because they are legally required, are not frequently considered as being important in relation to business strategy. This bias leads some companies to focus outwards in order to understand what customers need, instead of also benefiting from the data internal teams hold.

One reason for this, is that typically blunt instruments, such as ROI, are used to measure the value of internal teams. The formula works well for goods, or to a certain extent for teams that are commercially active, but falls short in measuring the value of functions that do not directly generate income for a company. It would however, be short-sighted to conclude, that, because it is hard to calculate a financial return for a certain team, that this team, does not in a myriad ways, impact a company’s financial performance. It would also be incorrect to maintain, merely because ROI is not habitually calculated for non-commercial team, that an ROI is incalculable. While developing a formula is beyond the scope of this newsletter, it is interesting to ponder on how such a formula might look. Some examples where very large ROIs could easily be calculated and demonstrated:

  • Medical Information teams identify indications that lead to a label extension.
  • Medical Information teams identify issues with sales force materials, based on HCP questions, leading to improvement of materials and hence improved sales force engagement.
  • Medical Information teams identify countries with high interest in accessing a novel product, leading to the adaptation of the product’s launch strategy.
  • Medical Information teams identify an issue with a medical device, leading to low uptake in the market, and low market share compared to the competition, after the situation is remediated uptake improves.
  • PV teams identify signals and address them early ensuring safe use of the product for patients, brand confidence and continued product use.

Unfortunately, until such a time as their value and impact on the business is widely accepted, many critical functions, including Medical Information teams, may continue to struggle to access to budget and headcount, which would enable them to move further beyond maintenance to innovation and more value generation.

Key action item: Considering your function and the company’s products, reflect on what topics you might proactively monitor with a view to improving the safe and effective use of your company’s products. Consider how you can use this information to support your function in reaching its goals.

Considerations for Building a Medical Information Function

Any company that markets medicinal products must have a scientific service that provides information on products to customers, including HCPs, patients and any other stakeholders. While the legal requirement is universal, what this means regarding the set-up of the scientific function varies dramatically. At a bare minimum you will need – a way to track Medical Information inquiries, a way to perform reconciliation with Quality Assurance and Pharmacovigilance teams, and professionals, with a scientific background, who understand the products and who can respond to all inquiries, whatever channel they are received by.

How you set this up will vary dramatically on your global footprint as well as on your company’s expansion plans for the future, the products you market and your current headcount. Whether you are redesigning your current set-up, or building a Medical Information team from scratch, here are some things you need to consider:

  • What is your current product portfolio, and what products are in the pipeline?
  • Are your products in orphan indications or are you launching a first in class product?
  • Do you have existing relationships with HCPs in the indications in which you are launching?
  • Are you launching in many markets or in a single market only?
  • Do you market all products globally, or do you work with partners, who are responsible for providing medical information?
  • Who is your typical customer: physicians, pharmacists or patients and relatives?
  • What are your language needs and material needs?
  • What activities would you insource/outsource?
  • What resources do you have in place and what capacity do they have?
  • What are your launch plans?
  • What inquiry volumes do you anticipate?
  • What digital channels does your company already use, can you capitalise on these?

These are just some of the questions which will help you identify your ideal set-up, including resourcing, the type of tracking tool to implement, analytics activities, what activities you will perform internally/externally and how to capitalise on the resources you already have. Furthermore, whether it makes more sense to focus on individual markets at the beginning, while keeping a global approach in mind as you build, or whether instead now is the time to evaluate/initiate/improve a globally integrated set-up.

Key take-away: build for now with a view to the future.

My New Year’s resolutions

At a recent dinner party, I was asked what my New Year’s resolution is. Over the years how I think about this has change. Instead of annual goals I have longer term goals, instead of looking at performance against goals in the span of a year, I think about how things are evolving and have evolved over time. Many of the most meaningful changes in my life have taken years to unfold, and as long as things are moving in the right direction, I find I am content.

However, there are two things I plan to do this year, not particularly difficult things, but I suspect they will have a significant impact: the first is to plan my holidays and to take them, the second one is to identify things I should stop doing. I wrote about this in a recent newsletter. It is very easy to keep on adding tasks, experiences and volunteering work to an already full schedule, it is sometimes easier to say “yes”, than “no”, what is infinitely harder, is to stop, take stock of all things that are going on, to prioritise what is truly important and to stop doing the rest.

A friend recently said to me, if you list all your activities in order of priority, and you end up with a list of 15 items, you will realise that the ones in positions lower down on the list are in fact the enemies of the activities you consider the most important.

I have been thinking about that a lot.

Key reminder: Less is more.

Upcoming Medical Information Conferences

Time to mark your diary for this years Medical Information Conferences. The first one on the calendar is MASC 2023, which will be held in Anaheim April 17th to April 19th. Prior to the main event there is a useful course by professionals for professionals, which is very helpful, especially for new joiners to Medical Information the title: Medical Communications Primer: The Fundamentals of Medical Communications. Other topics at this meeting include Medical communications insight generation, the landscape of patient engagement in pharma, customer experience, working with patients, privacy versus input and the future is now, digital health therapeutics and supportive technologies. The early bird rate is still available until February 17th. We are currently planning for the next EU Medical Information and Scientific Communications meeting, the agenda is being discussed and we will be sending out calls for abstracts too. If you want to present your data to the wider Medical Information population or you have a topic you want us to explore, now is the time to reach out to me, or my programme committee colleagues, to submit agenda ideas, your Wishlist or tell us about the topics you want to speak about. Now is your chance to help us shape the agenda!

Key action item: reflect on any projects that you have been involved in recently that would make for a good presentation at this years Medical Information conference.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Isabelle C. Widmer. London, December 2022