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Medical Engagement with Healthcare Professionals: It’s More than Just Science

Discussing science has always been the primary role of Medical Affairs when engaging with healthcare professionals (HCPs). Approach scientific discussions in a fair and balanced way. It’s non-promotional, and doesn’t favor one product or treatment method over the other. The discussion is unbiased and can go into detail about many different disease states, products and treatment approaches. The conversation includes data endpoints, trial results, symptoms, comorbidities, adverse events, safety issues - and many more.

Medical Affairs is the conduit for this engagement. Because the conversation is so specific - on-label, off-label – it stays very data-driven. While that is critical, staying focused on the data without incorporating the human story can be a detriment.

Why is Storytelling Important?

Increasing HCP awareness about psychosocial impacts or comorbidities so they can connect with patients beyond the “data” can, and in some cases should, change the approach to treatment. Understanding the person behind the diagnosis with a 360-degree viewpoint makes a big difference. Many HCPs might skip the “patient perspective” due to time constraints or quick first reactions.

Here’s an example showing how critical and beneficial taking that multifocal approach to patient care is. Ethan Weiss, MD, a cardiologist at UCSF, posted this thread on Twitter.

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By knowing his patient and listening to the struggles he was facing beyond his symptoms, Dr. Weiss’s approach to treatment shifted and ultimately helped in ways he would have missed by looking at the “hard data” alone.

Incorporating the Patient Journey into Scientific Discussions

For medical professionals to integrate the human or patient experiences into a science-based, data-driven discussion can be counter-intuitive. Storytelling has always been the job of marketing. However, in this day and age, if we aren’t connecting emotionally with the data, we are apt to forget it or potentially discount parts of it.

Patients are more than just a slide deck.

Sticking to the Story

Medical affairs may struggle to incorporate the story of the patient while staying objective and committed to science. However, all of the standard medical education assets should be created and used, while following a start to finish “story” of the patient’s journey.

Understand the patient journey - Utilizing market research, publications, interviews with physicians and patients, claims and prescription data, and other qualitative data, understand the steps your cohort of patients takes from symptoms, screening, diagnosis, treatment, and on. Along the way, answer these questions:

  •  Where are patients struggling? Are they being screened properly? Is more education needed at that data point?
  •  Are physicians referring to specialists early enough? How can we help shed more light on the importance of this?  
  •  Is the patient’s quality of life significantly impacted by this disease? Do we need to highlight the importance of QOL discussions between doctor and patient?

Aware and educated physicians result in patients that feel understood, which leads to better medical outcomes.

Moving Forward

After building and understanding the patient journey, sit down and see what areas need to be addressed with proactive content:

Understanding treatment gaps - Are things being missed in screening or in follow-up? Is one physician aware of the comorbidities associated with this disease state and not referring to another specialist when needed? A previous article covered looking at medicare data to understand where there may be screening gaps.

Adherence - Adherence and compliance with medical treatment is a well-known issue. If we help HCPs better understand why this is a challenge for this particular cohort of patients, we can help them proactively communicate with their patients. Perhaps we can encourage dialogue with their caregiver. We can also encourage them to ask the right questions about the challenges in compliance and support them with better tools to communicate with their patients.

Gathering insights - Across field medical teams, are MSLs being asked similar questions? Are there regional differences? Might these differences be due to coverage issues, genetics, or societal differences? Do we need to build assets to address these differences?

Working with patient groups - Whether it’s patient support or patient advocacy, liaise with these groups to understand what the gaps or needs might be from the patient’s perspective. Incorporate those insights into medical education programs and tools.

In Summary

Becoming more patient-centered and sharing that data through storytelling is not an overnight transition and is not a deviation from scientific discussion. It is a shift in thinking, an increase in awareness, and an evolved approach to medical education and engagement.

Are you interested in incorporating a more patient-centered approach to your medical education efforts? Reach out to us today. We can support the creation of medical education systems and tools that center around your patient journey roadmap.

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About the Author: Sharoni Billik is the Founder and CEO of SBHC, and works with pharmaceutical and biotech companies, and medical societies on medical affairs, clinical affairs, marketing, and medical communications initiatives.