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What Questions Could Medical Science Liaisons Ask to Generate Medical Insights?

Aug 25, 2020

In our last article, The Difference Between Data and Insights, you read why data is not the same as medical insights. A Medical Science Liaison (MSL) asking a healthcare practitioner (HCP) questions does not simply result in actionable insights. Free, open-ended discussions about whatever the MSL and HCP happen to talk about do not drive Medical Affairs strategy. Without a significant amount of raw data, you just can’t get the answers you need to take targeted action. Additional analysis of this data and recommendations are needed.

So what makes insight generation significantly more productive? Questions that are designed to generate those insights. Here is an example.

Questions that Generate Medical Insights: An Example

During COVID-19, many chemotherapy infusion centers closed, set limited schedules, or simply could not see as many people. For MSLs who have relationships with medical oncologists, the abrupt change presented an opportunity to generate data that would improve HCP engagement or patient outcomes.

Medical Affairs strategy is driven by insights derived from many data points including insight data generated during MSL engagement with doctors. So what questions could MSLs ask that would result in data from which these useful insights could be gleaned?

The Questions

Medical Affairs leaders should establish clear learning objectives that MSLs can focus on during their engagements with KOLs. Those objectives should be converted into pointed questions that the MSL is able to answer based on those interactions.

So what does MA want to know? In this chemotherapy example, perhaps MA suspects that doctors are interacting with patients via telemedicine. Perhaps they are considering oral alternatives to infusion therapy. If that hypothesis proves correct, MA will need to produce educational material for both physicians and patients. But is it correct? That’s what these insight-generating discussions are intended to do.

When meeting with an oncologist, a Medical Science Liaison could incorporate questions like these into their dialogue:

  • What tools are you planning to use for telemedicine?
  • Are patients planning on stopping therapy because of COVID-19 concerns?
  • Are you continuing to treat current patients, but not diagnose new patients?
  • How is diagnosis happening through telemedicine?
  • What are the risk factors around people stopping their therapies or not getting the checkups they’re supposed to get?
  • What are the new monitoring procedures besides monthly or quarterly visits?
  • Are you planning on switching any patients from an infused drug to an oral alternative?
  • What are some alternative therapies you might be able to look at?
  • What are the implications of switching to those therapies? What are the risks of infection with those drugs and a reduced immune system? Do you have any studies on that?

While the MSL should not read off these questions word-for-word (as that’s not how conversations work), they could review these questions before each interaction with oncologists, paraphrase these questions into their conversation, and record the doctors’ responses with note-taking, a digital recorder (only with the doctor’s permission), or to the best of their memory.

Then what? From those questions spring answers, and from those answers spring insights. Here’s how.

The Answers (And Medical Insights)

Much of insight generation is understanding the doctor’s concerns and providing information to help them weigh the risks. If you understand what seventy-five doctors are concerned about and you have useful information for them, then 7,500 doctors may have similar concerns.

Let’s say the Medical Science Liaisons learn that a significant number of doctors (and patients) are worried about the infection of COVID-19 at infusion centers. The questions asked to give the MSLs a dozen or more data points from every conversation for doctors’ intended chemotherapy alternative. These patterns and trends, when properly analyzed, result in actionable insight.

Since oncologists can’t get their patients their infusions on schedule, many are openly considering switching from an infusion to an oral prescription. Perhaps 75 percent of doctors are thinking of switching. They are only handling 20 percent of their usual caseload right now, and they’re not accepting any new patients. Those figures are the result of data analysis.

The Medical Affairs team would then send information to the doctors to make sure they understand the implications of switching from infusions to oral drugs and back, any risks of infection with the drug, and so on. Medical Affairs could create an HCP training, fund a new study, or distribute existing research on drug switching. These are all strategic actions born out of insight generation.

By asking the right questions, MSLs have the ability to provide their organization with more useful data. This data can directly lead to better patient outcomes. For more information on insight generation, contact Acceleration Point today.

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