Medical Affairs: Meeting the Challenges of COVID-19 and Omnichannel Engagement

With a focus on providing consistent, credible, and unbiased scientific information to key external stakeholders, Medical Affairs continues to increase in significance within life sciences. McKinsey and Company refers to Medical Affairs’ new role as a “primary strategic pillar of the organization alongside R&D, Commercial and Market Access.”1 This transition has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and a focus on new virtual engagement models.

Recently Veeva hosted two forums with medical affairs to discuss these industry trends and opportunities. Participants included leaders from large pharma to emerging biotechs across the medical function. Here are some key takeaways:

Increased dependence on medical during COVID-19 pandemic

Eighty-eight percent of forum participants saw an increase in demand for medical during the pandemic.2 This was seen across multiple areas including medical operations support for clinical trials, the need for more and varied scientific content, getting the organization ready for digital and especially hosting virtual events.

HCPs continue to value their meetings with MSLs and are therefore still making time to see them, mostly virtually, for the same amount of time as before. HCPs in specialty areas consistently rely on meetings with field medical for scientific dialogue. However, there were many in the group that felt the virtual interactions were not as robust and it was much more difficult to establish and maintain relationships with key external stakeholders.

Medical-Leader-Forum-Chart (2)

Additional considerations for hosting events virtually

Virtual events was also a topic of debate among the group. While many appreciated the speed with which organizations can develop and deliver virtual events such as ad boards, many felt there were additional challenges such as:

  • Difficulty in bringing people together virtually across time zones
  • Determining which components could meet separately in smaller groups (usually done by specific disease area)
  • Bringing the entire group together for kickoff and conclusion
  • Ensuring that participating HCPs had the knowledge to fully use the digital event hosting platform

Some medical organizations completely redesigned their meeting formats, using online surveys and asking for specific commentary on white papers. They also held a series of shorter meetings more frequently, typically by region.

Changing preferences of HCPs

As the focus on telehealth continues, HCPs are seeing more patients virtually and have an increased comfort level with technology and digital engagement. The consensus of the group was that HCPs have a strong interest in a hybrid model of engagement going forward that combines both in-person and virtual tools. A high priority for all the participants as they evolve to a hybrid model is enhancing interactions with HCPs.

A representative from McKinsey and Company joined the forum to give the group some additional perspective from their recent study of medical and commercial engagement with HCPs. According to their research, a “personalized approach that seeks to understand physician preferences across their entire journey, and tailors interactions to the individual doctor” is key to improving HCP interactions moving forward.3

The future of medical omnichannel engagement

HCPs are seeking fair, balanced information and original content from sources such as scientific publications and congresses. There is an opportunity for pharma companies to leverage digital channels to curate, aggregate, and summarize scientific advances for HCPs. The group discussed the challenges they face with these external channels including keeping published information up-to-date and understanding what drives HCPs to pharma websites versus external sources.

Many also saw the value of an omnichannel engagement model to improve HCP access. To be successful, the omnichannel model must be tailored to meet the needs of the individual HCP. It must be consistent, seamless, and deliver a high-quality experience across all channels. In addition, the HCP must get value from it to better treat their patients.

Forum participants were just starting their journey to an omnichannel model and felt that keeping consistency across channels, especially when the pharma organization has limited control over many of them, is the biggest challenge. Further opportunities to improve the implementation of omnichannel engagement include how to manage the legal and regulatory implications with digital interactions, how to build metrics to evaluate progress, and ensuring the right level of leadership to tie it all together.


All the medical leaders agreed that customer data is the critical element to achieving omnichannel engagement. To better understand their customers, Medical Affairs needs to increase their efforts and focus on capturing and analyzing this data in one centralized location with corresponding business processes and robust governance.

Working together towards practical application

More medical leader forums are planned as the group appreciated the opportunity to meet as a community to discuss important trends and challenges.

Join us to continue the conversation with medical leaders from across life sciences at Veeva Summit Connect on June 10.

1. “A Vision for Medical Affairs in 2025”, McKinsey & Company, April 2019
2. Online poll of Medical Leader Forum Participants, April 2021
3. “A Vision for Medical Affairs in 2025”, McKinsey & Company, April 2019

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