Getting the most from MSLs: Keeping communication going
By: Peter Rutherford, MD, PhD | December 07, 2016
In addition to scientific knowledge, Medical Science Liaisons need good communications skills to build solid relationships with KOLs.
Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) play an important role in scientific education, supporting staff in-house and externally acting as a bridge between biopharma and key opinion leaders (KOLs). While MSLs must have in-depth scientific knowledge, communication skills are just as important. These include an ability to understand and evaluate the audience's level of knowledge, and present scientific information clearly at a variety of different levels. But communication is a two-way street. MSLs must also be able to draw information out of the people they are working with and capture insights relating to the internal and external education process and to help shape biopharma’s development strategy.
To help build external relationships with KOLs and other healthcare professionals, and internal relationships with colleagues, MSLs need to use their communications skills to help confirm their scientific credibility. The approaches for communication will differ according to the audience and their needs, and it's important that the MSL can recognize this and act on it.
MSLs need to understand the data and communicate it consistently across both external and internal audiences. This can be supported by an in-house toolkit that is kept up-to-date as the market and clinical landscapes evolve.
The first tool in the kit is the scientific engagement framework. This is an internal document aligned to the company's medical strategy, and supports the development of a clinical compendium. This resource provides the MSL with the backup that he or she needs, and includes the scientific rationale for the drug and its development, a database of evidence such as reports from clinical trials and publications, and standard response letters. This must be constantly monitored and developed to keep MSLs up-to-date. The final part of the toolkit is a master slide resource. These are tailored to different audiences, and provide a variety of information and education materials. The slides could cover care pathways, unmet needs and challenges for patients and healthcare professionals, and information on mechanism of action such as animations, especially for complex molecules such as biologics.
Communications skills should be built into MSL training plans, as part of their initial training, or into their personal development plans. MSL managers and team leaders need to be able to evaluate and coach their team members in the area of communication.
Training should include skills for critical evaluation of data from a variety of different sources including peer-reviewed publications. MSLs need to understand what is required for different stakeholders and be able to anticipate what kind of questions they may be asked.
Training should also cover best practice approaches when structuring discussions, to help keep them effective and efficient, whether internal or external. This includes establishing the purpose of the conversation, and placing it in the context of viewpoints, level of understanding and previous discussions, and closing with reasonable and useful actions.
In summary, effective engagement for MSLs requires credibility and knowledge, access to current data, the right tools for the right stakeholders, and the ability to communicate and adapt information to the individual or the local setting.