3 Best Practices for Evolving Field Medical Affairs Teams and Managing Change

3 Best Practices for Evolving Field Medical Affairs Teams and Managing Change

By Jennifer Vernazza, Sanofi Genzyme

Ms. Vernazza contributed to this article in her personal capacity. The views expressed are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sanofi or Sanofi Genzyme.

Life sciences leaders are scaling medical teams to match the role’s expanded remit – a move that means increasing not only their size, but also their strategic scope. While our industry is making strides in expanding the number of MSLs on the job, more work is needed on the second half of the equation: transforming the role itself and empowering MSLs to thrive in it.

Today’s healthcare landscape is incredibly networked, and HCPs face an acute need for timely answers to more complex scientific questions. Layer on the demands of transitioning to digital, and it is clear that field medical requires a shift in approach. Medical field-based teams should consider new processes enabling MSLs to reach the right stakeholders, quickly tailor engagement, and capture insights for more data-driven strategies. Fueled by a multichannel CRM systems designed for medical affairs, this represents a new way of approaching scientific engagement.

In my last post, I discussed key capabilities the modern MSL needs. But what steps can companies take to move forward, and what does the journey look like?

As Medical teams evolve, they’ve uncovered best practices along the way that have smoothed the path toward thinking and working differently:

Creating a Culture of Change

Successful, strategic organizational change requires a high level of communication (early and often) to all relevant teams. Months before a roll out, start communicating about the change in order to foster high adoption when the system is deployed. Also, recruitment of a strong network of internal change champions is key. Digital-savvy end users not only help design the requirements and customize the build out, but also act as ambassadors for the impending change. They will talk with colleagues about the timeline, the benefits of the change, and what to expect. This way, all stakeholders know exactly who contact with questions and where to get updates.

Data-driven Planning and Engagement

Another success factor in implementing a new CRM is taking full advantage of medical data. With so much valuable information collected, how will it be used effectively to shape medical strategies?  Using and analyzing data on customer interests and channel preferences, as well as leveraging reports and dashboards to evaluate performance of team is crucial. Taking hundreds of clinical insights collected in a CRM and performing data mining or text analytics to pull out scientific trends is extremely valuable. When MSLs start seeing this data, and uncovering insights that are immediately actionable, they get excited about building stronger relationships – in turn speeding adoption.


Caption: Leveraging the data in medical CRM, medical affairs teams can get a full picture of KOLs’ scientific interests in order to improve KOL engagement.

Key activity metrics can be viewed to determine resource capacity planning exercises and how to best grow field-based teams.  For instance, if data shows MSLs are spending most of their time on internal activities, it signals a fundamental is needed with either team sizing or prioritization. At the end of the day, the value of technology is its ability to contribute meaningfully to business decisions.

The Right Foundation

Another key success factor is ability to maximize technology to achieve medical goals without being burdensome for MSLs.  Tool and systems should be as easy as possible for field teams, meaning the system has to work seamlessly from a technical perspective, with short data sync times, and proper alignment of stakeholders into their universe. Because MSLs spend so much time traveling in the field, the system needs to be intuitive – these teams don’t have time to waste figuring out software between meetings with stakeholders.

Beyond usability, it should be easy for MSLs to visualize the healthcare landscape as well as gain deep insight into each stakeholder, directly in their workflow. This level of visibility allows for faster and more strategic pre-call planning, as well as mapping strategies to account-specific objectives. Finally, tools should be easy for MSLs to capture information from interactions, across all channels, and refine engagement based on insights and analytics.

It’s an exciting time to be in medical affairs. Science is advancing every day, and field-based medical teams have the opportunity to make an impact in delivering better healthcare and improving patients’ lives. Realizing this vision means taking a look at how we approach our partnership with healthcare, adapting and growing with the evolution of our industry. 

To learn more on the future of field medical affairs, check out the MSL report.

3 Ways to Reimagine KOL Engagement

3 Ways to Reimagine KOL Engagement

By Jennifer Vernazza, Sanofi Genzyme

Ms. Vernazza contributed to this article in her personal capacity. The views expressed are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sanofi or Sanofi Genzyme.

With medical affairs’ shift to a critical strategic function, the role is seeing tremendous growth – medical science liaison opportunities alone are expected to grow by 20% this year[1]. However, this change also demands new skillsets and competencies. As the HCP-facing branch of medical, field teams are at the forefront. Today’s MSLs are essentially the CEOs of their territory, and a key local resource as the rare disease space continues to grow. 

As MSLs roles grow, companies can refine their approach to KOL engagement and MSL enablement and learn new ways to approach some relevant key areas – including the MSL role, digital strategy, and the building blocks of an effective field medical function.

Changing the MSL Role

MSL teams are expanding because they are increasingly relied upon as both the internal and external expert for the diseases they cover. Much of their time is spent working with and training internal sales, marketing and R&D teams on the medical education around these diseases. They can also be responsible for understanding the healthcare landscape, spending hours of prep time researching the publications, recent clinical trials, and scientific interests of key stakeholders. Beyond serving as an internal scientific resource, MSLs can be the voice of the HCP back to the company. This data generation is a unique resource that MSLs can deliver.

Cultivating Digital Savvy

More and more, digital and technology savvy is a core distinguishing factor of an effective MSL.  As new tools emerge, such as medical-specific multichannel CRM, eMSL, MSL on-demand, and virtual meetings and events, MSLs are expected to be proficient in these technologies. Moreover, leading MSLs are helping to shape innovative use cases and digital strategy. Reliance on paper-based processes is declining as MSLs start realizing the benefits of leveraging technology to break down silos and improve transparency.

Caption: To meet the expanding demands of KOL engagement, medical affairs departments are rethinking how they engage, their core technologies and processes, and the core competencies of their departments.

Medical affairs will also need to have a more structured approach in planning for KOL engagements, as HCP time is limited and valuable. So leveraging HCP information captured in CRM, along with other external data, is crucial to tailoring communication. For example, we are now leveraging stakeholder data to segment thought leaders in new and different way so that “rising stars” can be identified. This can lead to new relationships that possibly would have been missed entirely. 

Additionally, the process of delivering scientific statements will also change as MSLs use iPads and other mobile devices to augment and capture feedback during face-to-face interactions. And even as access challenges proliferate, one can see a counter-trend of HCPs reaching out directly to MSLs, enabled by emerging virtual meeting and MSL on-demand technologies. This requires a mindset shift, but as seen consistently in KOL surveys, timely responses are extremely valuable to HCPs who have to make quick decisions about patient care. Instead of waiting for an MSL to visit, HCPs will more proactively reach out to get information these days – and expect to receive the right answer, regardless of channel. 

Finally, the process of reporting back to the company with key field clinical insights and synthesizing these learning will continue to evolve. Integrating field medical-derived insights with data from clinical trials and real-world evidence promises to be very powerful, and will ultimately improve outcomes.

Developing a Strategic Mindset

In addition to a scientific knowledge foundation, the capabilities to look for in MSLs are soft skill focused, such strong business acumen and emotional intelligence, sound judgment, integrity, self-motivation, and learning agility. They must also possess an entrepreneurial spirit and leadership presence, and be able to tell a compelling story with scientific data. MSLs are essentially managing their own territory like a mini-business so need to be able to think creatively, while strictly adhering to compliance guidelines and internal policies.


Within life sciences, strategic development and commercialization cannot fail to account for the value and insight medical affairs delivers. In my next post, I’ll explore how one can design a change management plan, and progress toward a vision of a fully empowered medical affairs function.

To learn how medical teams can leverage scientific insights for better HCP engagement, check out this white paper.


[1] “8 Reasons MSL Opportunities will Grow in 2017,” MSL Society. http://www.smithhanley.com/2016/10/24/8-reasons-msl-opportunities-will-grow-20-2017/