Medical Affairs teams act as a bridge between a pharmaceutical company’s research and development efforts and the healthcare community, working to ensure that patients receive the best possible care with the company’s treatments. Generally, Medical Affairs departments make sure that products are safe and effective for patients, work closely with healthcare professionals to provide information and education about the treatments, and collect real-world data on the performance of medications and therapies.
They can also play a critical role when it comes to driving adherence to evidence-based medicine (EBM) – the principle that clinical decisions should be informed by the best available scientific evidence, along with clinical experience and patient preference.
Johns Hopkins Medicine states that EBM is the cornerstone of clinical practice and can improve patient outcomes and quality of care. There are many studies that show the real-world clinical benefits of EBM. For example, following an evidence-based approach is shown to significantly reduce atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease events and mortality rates in patients with diabetes.
Unfortunately, just as many studies show a lack of adherence to evidence-based practices. Our own internal data shows that 90% of cardiologists give patients the wrong treatment simply because they tend to recommend what they have the most experience with.
Why are there still gaps in the use of evidence-based therapy? Lack of time, resources, and access to evidence-based guidelines and research are all factors. A phenomenon known as clinical inertia is also often at play. In short, doctors are trained to memorize specific treatments and over time defer to what they know best instead of considering newer advancements that might actually be safer or more effective. The good news is that Medical Affairs can help.
The role of medical affairs
Medical Affairs teams are at the forefront of developing patient-centric strategies within biotech and pharmaceutical companies, and can play a vital role in helping doctors overcome clinical inertia. Medical Affairs departments help ensure that physicians and treatment leaders are aware of the latest medical evidence so they can incorporate it into clinical practice.
Consider this: There is a new treatment available to cardiac patients proven to increase life expectancy by 30% … but doctors are not prescribing it and patients are not aware of it. This is where Medical Affairs can help. They could successfully educate cardiologists about this treatment so they start recommending it instead of what they traditionally prescribe. They can also engage with key medical influencers who can help spread the word so both doctors and patients are more aware of new treatments, especially as they relate to diverse populations who are often impacted more significantly by certain diseases.
The industry agrees that Medical Affairs plays an integral role in improving adherence to evidence-based medicine. For example, McKinsey states that “Medical Affairs teams, through their deep understanding of science, data capabilities, and their dialogue with stakeholders, will be well positioned to understand how to seek the evidence required to…optimize patient outcomes.”
MAPS further validates this by saying, “By 2030, Medical Affairs will solidify its transition from execution to strategic, and the function will come to represent the voice of the patient within the industry. We will not only disseminate evidence but also lead evidence-generation activities that inform the real-world use of marketed and emerging treatments.”
Five steps to improved patient outcomes
If Medical Affairs teams can discover and interact with healthcare organizations with low adherence to evidence-based medicine and identify the HCPs that present the greatest opportunity for education, they can create a plan to inform them about the latest research and therapies – and how they can be applied in clinical practice.
Here is a five-step approach for Medical Affairs teams to follow:
- Identify healthcare practitioners and organizations that are not following evidence-based medicine. The first step is to understand which doctors aren’t integrating evidence-based medicine into their practices. Medical Affairs can do this by accessing and analyzing data to identify clinical care gaps, compute clinical quality scores, and measure patient outcomes.
- Find the best key opinion leaders, digital opinion leaders, and rising stars who can help drive adherence to the latest medicine and close education gaps. Finding and engaging modern influencers who can actually help educate other doctors and patients about new, clinically-proven therapies is critical. Medical Affairs can do this by mining social media activity, the latest research and publications, and more.
- Utilize cutting-edge technologies to have meaningful and personalized engagements with the right stakeholders. By leveraging modern technologies, Medical Affairs teams can unearth data-driven insights that can significantly enhance their interactions with the right stakeholders. Technologies that integrate both first- and third-party data sources and seamlessly integrate with internal CRM and client systems will provide Medical Affairs with a comprehensive understanding of the landscape. Customized, AI-powered activity feeds and workflows can generate a stream of reliable updates on HCP activities, ensuring consistent and meaningful communication. Automatic meeting reminders and mobile applications can also aid Medical Affairs in tailoring their communications.
- Take an omnichannel approach to engagement and education. Education is needed to improve clinical performance and patient outcomes, but it needs to go beyond just having medical science liaisons in the field. Medical Affairs can leverage insights gathered from diverse channels, identify knowledge gaps, and have the ability to influence and educate stakeholders using balanced, up-to-date research and opinions of subject matter experts who have personally reviewed and evaluated the literature. Medical Affairs teams can also provide education and training to HCPs about the latest medical evidence and how it can be applied in clinical practice; the newest treatments, diagnostic tools, and medical devices; and how to interpret and use clinical guidelines effectively.
- Measure to see if Medical Affairs activities are having an impact on the healthcare community. Medical Affairs is working hard to improve patient care, but the real results of these efforts are not always clear. Tracking how the landscape is changing over time is crucial to understand the impact of Medical Affairs’ strategies and uncover opportunities for refinement. Using the latest technology to understand scientific share of voice, gather sentiment of HCPs, track HCP clinical behavior to close care gaps, and measure patient outcome improvements are good places to start. These metrics can be captured by technology and analytics that watch trends over time to see if a medical affairs organization is making an impact on the lives of HCPs and patients.
Closing the gap
It’s more critical than ever for pharma and biotech companies to prove the impact of their treatments, and educate healthcare professionals so they integrate them into their clinical practices. Yet, despite being linked to better patient outcomes and reduced costs, evidence-based practices are still underutilized by most healthcare professionals largely due to a lack of education.
Medical Affairs teams can and should be these educators. By filling this critical gap, Medical Affairs can inform HCPs about the latest treatments, drive adherence to evidence-based medicine, and ultimately, improve outcomes for patients.
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