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Blog: Harnessing Medical Affairs’ Strategic Potential

When saddled with legacy medical information systems, Medical Affairs teams are forced to behave like detectives, hunting down information across disjointed systems and ferreting insights out of vast databases just to satisfy the inquiry of a single customer. Outdated workflows like these are time-consuming and far from cost-effective, and they leave strategic opportunities for cross-functional collaboration on the table. 

Medical Affairs teams are inundated with an ever-growing volume of requests for information from stakeholders from a multitude of channels — phone calls to email and even social media— and patients comprise an increasing percentage of stakeholders. Facing mounting pressure to step up as strategic drivers, Medical Affairs teams are challenged to produce more results in less time and with fewer resources. 

To rise to the occasion, Medical Affairs teams need to invest in technology rich in the automation and artificial intelligence functionality that will revolutionize their workflow. These tools are instrumental to transform Medical Affairs from a transactional function to a strategic driver that will improve the patient experience and increase profitability.  

Three technology pillars will empower Medical Affairs to become this strategy-focused domain: cross-departmental data sharing, automation, and artificial intelligence. 

A healthcare provider fills out a form.

Cross-Departmental Data Sharing to Increase Efficiency 

To be effective, Medical Affairs teams need a well-structured Medical Information system and access cross-departmental data within a single database. Legacy systems that don’t share data in real time force Medical Affairs employees to act as internal sleuths, following clues in the form of regulatory dossiers and cross-functional emails to find answers to stakeholder inquiries. But when the organization has a single source of truth that catalogues this information, Medical Affairs teams can spend less time digging and more time communicating with stakeholders to improve the patient experience. 

Think of it this way: a cloud-based, data-centric Medical Information system is the modern internet search engine, populating answers in seconds, while legacy systems are a library — the information is there, but finding it will take far longer, and there’s a risk that that information could be outdated. An intuitively structured, cloud-based Medical Information solution can also collect all inquiries from stakeholders in a single location, ensuring they don’t slip through the cracks — making it easier for Medical Affairs teams to respond at the point of need.  

In practice, this could mean sourcing the answer to a question that hailed from one continent in a report that was generated on another, then responding to that inquiry via the Medical Information platform in the same format it was received: whether that’s by phone, email, a mobile app, an online chat, or even a fax.  

By engaging stakeholders with the right information at the right time, the patient experience will be vastly improved. Dedicated workflows and a single platform to capture all product information also means that important documents, like inquiries and reports, are processed and shared appropriately, reducing the risk of human error. 

Automation is table stakes 

While a central source of data empowers Medical Affairs teams to respond to stakeholders more quickly, these teams are still inundated by rising requests. Investing in automation-ready technology is critical if these teams are to become strategic drivers in the organization to free up their employees’ time to focus on high-priority, strategic initiatives.  

Automation in Medical Affairs can take multiple forms — and in fact, according to our 2021 Industry Report: State of Automation and AI Adoption in Life Sciences, more than 95% of subject matter experts in this function expect their organization will further invest in existing automation initiatives. Through automating certain functions, Medical Affairs teams have the opportunity to provide a better patient experience while also focusing effort on other key goals and priorities.  

For example, automated chatbots can respond to simple inquiries immediately, both satisfying the stakeholder and reducing the manual workload of the team — and they’ve become the third-most used channel for communicating with Medical Affairs teams. The result? A steady decline of phone inquiries as healthcare providers and patients increase adoption of chatbots and other more relevant methods of communication. With fewer phone calls, a significant portion of inquiries can be delegated to automation, whether scripted with rule-based automation or powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms. 

Automated workflows can both reduce human error and ensure regulatory compliance. Such technology could also supplement the efforts of employees, for example by automatically generating reports that provide critical metrics and personalized dashboards.  

As Medical Information systems advance, they can monitor social media and less traditional reporting channels. Product complaints have become common on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, where patients often go to share information, seek opinions, and offer guidance. These product inquires and complaints aren’t always reported directly to biopharmas, but are nonetheless critical pieces of information for the organization. Automation technology will soon be used to comb social media for such information, enabling Medical Affairs teams to keep their finger on the pulse of public opinion, and potentially even catch unreported adverse events.  

A healthcare provider examines medical information on a tablet.

Artificial intelligence will accelerate Medical Affairs  

As previously stated, Medical Affairs teams have traditionally operated as transactional entities, but rising complexity and shrinking budgets are pressuring teams to be more strategic. These teams sit on a wealth of data collected from stakeholders, including adverse events not reported to Safety teams, commonly asked questions from healthcare providers and patients, and the wealth of information shared across departments.  

Leveraging that data is key to providing strategic insights but extracting those insights is challenging. This is where artificial intelligence has the opportunity to revolutionize the Medical Affairs function.  

Machine learning algorithms like cluster and trend analyses can pull aggregated information and insights from massive data sets in a fraction of the time it would take a human to run the same analysis. At its best, artificial intelligence (AI) can identify patterns or trends that would not be readily apparent to the human mind. Such signals could be shared with Clinical teams to explore expanded label opportunities and alternative use cases that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. That sort of insight has enormous upside for biopharmas.  

Medical Affairs is an evolving industry  

Medical Affairs is transforming from a purely transactional arm of biopharmas to one that will be integral in driving strategic decision-making and profitability. These teams are already feeling the pressure of a changing environment from more involved and aware patient stakeholders, rising volumes of requests and inquiries, and increasingly complex medications and treatments.  

To keep pace with the changing industry, these teams will need to invest in intelligent technology that will make them more efficient and more agile, while equipping them with the tools necessary to deliver strategic, innovative insights to the rest of the organization. Making these investments now will set these teams up for success, and put them in a good position to evolve in the rapidly changing industry. 

Learn more about ArisGlobal’s LifeSphere Medical Affairs solution here.