At every pharmaceutical company, the Medical Affairs (MA) team works to provide scientific and clinical support for their products. An MA team often shares important data about the product and disease state with physicians. Medical Science Liaisons (MSL) gather and share data by meeting with healthcare practitioners (HCP).

What many Medical Affairs professionals are not yet aware of, however, is the incredible opportunity social media offers. Again, MSLs have an important role with two of their primary responsibilities being to share data with HCPs to help them make treatment decisions with their patients and to gather physicians’ insights to improve the company’s brand strategy. Social media presents an incredible opportunity to increase the frequency and quantity of these doctors’ valuable insights.

Specifically, social media has two advantages over traditional data-gathering methods: speed and volume. With social media analysis tools like BrandWatch or LinkFluence, MA can search hundreds of billions of public, online conversations for insights. At Acceleration Point, we typically advise Medical Affairs teams to generate these useful insights from social media by keyword—your product keywords, practice area keywords, keywords around physician feedback on your or a competitor’s recently launched product, or keywords related to specific physicians. Specific insights you can gather from social media include discussions around key scientific topics, perspectives on recent data releases, and commentary on new product launches, etc. 

For example, it is not always clear how a new pharmaceutical product may impact doctors’ treatment decisions. If a patient is currently taking drug A, and their physician is considering moving them to new drug B, what are the implications? If doctors aren’t sure if proposing the switch to drug B is a good idea, and they are discussing these concerns on social media, that’s something the MA team should be aware of. MA might then decide that more research, publishing, and education around the consequences of moving from drug A to drug B are required.

A valid concern Medical Affairs has about online data gathering is overwhelming volume. For example, two or three keyword searches on Twitter using hashtags like #medicalinsights and #futureofhealth bring up 20,000-plus results. Most tweets lead researchers down an even deeper dive. To deal with these massive searches, MA professionals can delegate this research (as well as insight generation) to a medical operations partner.

How Medical Affairs Engages KOLs on Social Media

Social media data gathering also enables Medical Affairs to find potential opinion leaders—digital opinion leaders, or DOLs—to develop a relationship with.

DOLs are HCPs with an online audience on a social media platform such as Twitter. Even though these physicians share insights with peers in the digital space, Medical Affairs engages them in a traditional sense. After MA leadership identifies them through social media data analysis, your Medical Science Liaison can visit with that doctor for a one-on-one engagement, share with them some scientific information, answer any questions they might have, and become a resource for them if they need anything. Perhaps the doctor was not able to attend a recent conference, so the MSL can provide a summary of key points presented. Often, physicians disseminate this information to their own audience, furthering the goal of relevant medical education.

Other forms of DOL engagement include participation in a clinical study, an advisory board seat, and medical education partnerships. Learn more about the difference between the traditional key opinion leader (KOL) and the digital opinion leader here.