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Medical Affairs strategies in 2024: Mind the (digital) gap

Medical Affairs strategies in 2024: Mind the (digital) gap 

Five essential considerations for future-centric Medical Affairs teams

Authored by Karen Willand, Senior Principal, Uptake.

Living in a world of rapid technological change means that we have become used to learning about, and ‘playing’ with new advancements. Take generative AI, for example. Its rise to mainstream accessibility means that there are few of us who have not dabbled in ChatGPT or similar. But how many of us are fully harnessing the breadth of digital channels available to achieve exceptional results?

Uptake’s Senior Principal, Karen Willand, shares her perspective on what 2024 should mean for those in Medical Affairs roles – and spoiler alert – this means stepping out onto the social media playground with big intentions. 

Social media has continued to dominate the lives of our patients and HCPs as a top channel, and virtual meetings are now truly embedded in our post-COVID times. The days of digital channels being ‘new’ are far behind us, so the days of not considering the full suite when developing strategies should also be in the past… But strangely, they are not.

In the early days social media was seen as part of the marketers’ digital toolkit, but today it is a key channel for all engagement, including for Medical Affairs. Are you missing out on the fullness of the opportunity? Possibly – but if you are mindful of the gap and take the following steps to fill it, you will be set up for success – whatever direction the technology takes us in next.

Start with insights

Regardless of channel the starting point should always be insights. When it comes to digital, consider the following:

  • Preferences and behaviours – what are your stakeholders’ channel and content preferences and what are their behaviours when it comes to digital engagement?
  • Linguistics – what language nuances, keywords and hashtags do your stakeholders use, search for, or engage with?
  • Influencers – who are your stakeholders’ online influencers?
  • Unmet needs – what are your stakeholders’ unmet needs and what content and resources exist for them and where are there gaps?
  • Timing – when is a good time to engage and what events might be worth considering (not just big congress)?
  • Technology and platform – what are the current and future tech related nuances you need to be aware of?

You can use these insights across all your engagement channels, from digital to MSL to congress.  For example, knowing an HCP is searching for a particular term online can help direct the conversation your MSL might have or the materials you may need to prepare to support your MSL discussions.

For Medical Affairs this also means having a more dedicated approach to the data collected for Medical Affairs. Understanding it to get to the salient, actionable insights also needs to be part of the day job – and not something that is left to other teams.

Remember it is not about you

The other foundational element to great digital scientific exchange is the understanding that it is not about you or what you want to talk about. Pharma companies have traditionally broadcast about themselves – that no longer works in today’s digital age. To be truly successful online you must truly understand your stakeholder (see insights above) and develop your scientific engagement around them and their unmet needs and preferences.  It is about how you can help them and meet the needs and those of their patients.

For example, a large amount of social media still broadcasts about companies rather than delivering content that supports stakeholders or provides any value to them. Case in point – how many in pharma share that they are attending a congress? That is broadcasting low value content. Your stakeholders would probably rather hear about something useful – such as the latest disease trial data or any related webinars they will be sharing with congress highlights (hint if it is HCP-only you can put the content behind a sign-in/ verification screen). Or perhaps if you are attending the congress, you can share meet-up details with your HCPs attending via social media?

In the digital world stakeholders can choose what they engage with – and where they do so. If you want to succeed, you have to deliver what they want to hear – not what you want to talk about. A great way of doing this remains asking them! How many of you have involved stakeholders in co-creating your engagement plans?

Create the experience

One of the hot phrases when it comes to omnichannel is “customer experience”. Seamless, personalised, integrated experience. Whilst technology now enables us to deliver personalised engagement in real time the principles behind doing this successfully remain the same. Whilst the term “customer experience” might feel more marketing orientated the concepts are just as applicable to medical engagement.

Building these online experiences again requires insights and stakeholder centricity. It also requires a different approach to content. However, this is also strictly speaking not new – modular content has been around for years. The difference is that modern omnichannel only really works if you have a huge library of content modules that enables a personalised experience.

The beauty of modular content though is that you get more value for your money. A single piece of information can now be packaged up in a huge variety of modules from a video to a GIF to an interactive quiz. This also brings more value for the global local dynamic in pharma. There is far less need for each country to develop mainly their own content – rather they should increasingly be able to pick the modules that suit their local stakeholders from a central library.

When you then plan your engagements, you need to think about where the stakeholder might journey to – what are the different potential routes they may take and what content will you need to ensure that journey not only provides value but flows seamlessly. Modern journeys involve many “what ifs” and triggers (e.g., what if the HCP does not open the email?)

For Medical Affairs this also has implications around the approval process.  There needs to be shifted to being more dynamic and agile, as well as approving content to be used in a more flexible, modular way.  This might mean for some introducing new processes or bringing in new technology, such as generative AI, to support the process.

Measure and optimise

Digital can be assessed in real-time to understand what is and isn’t working. Traditionally pharma teams might have looked at market research data on a quarterly basis – today checking your data should be a weekly occurrence, or daily+ if you are running a campaign on social media around a congress or event. Don’t make kneejerk reactions but be mindful of what the patterns are telling you, iterate, and keep watching.

When you plan your initial journey, you will need your data to rapidly validate it – did you get the “what ifs” right? What activity and content needs adapting? This also means you need to identify the right things to measure upfront.

In our digital world there is so much we can measure – the secret today is knowing what to measure and then also what to do with the outcomes. Measuring the number of people who signed up to a medical webinar is only useful if you can do something with the data. How many signed up is fairly useless on its own. However, being able to tie how many signed up from a particular activity (e.g., email A or Twitter post B) provides insights that one activity worked better than the other, for example. The action you might then take is to increase one and decrease the other, or to bring in your MSLs.

Remember the importance of your foundations

As your teams get excited – or worried – about the latest technology remind them to build from the ground up. Moving on to the next shiny thing will not bring the results you hope for until the foundations are solid, but once you have these, you can incrementally trial the addition of more digital (including social) channels, to build an innovative ecosystem led by insights to deliver the content that is most valuable to your stakeholders, where and when they need it.

Introducing Uptake’s Medical Affairs and digital experts

Get in touch via to discuss how our healthcare consultants can work with your Medical Affairs team to enhance the impact of your digital communications and customer experience.

Karen Willand

Senior Principal

Caroline Horwood

Practice Principal

Debbie Lough


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For more thought leadership from our team of Medical Affairs experts, read our article ‘Medical Affairs – The Future Strategists Of The Pharma Industry?’

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