Medical science liaisons (MSLs) are an important part of the communications chain. They act as a credible link between healthcare professionals (HCPs), key opinion leaders (KOLs) and biopharma, and thereby support the teams who are responsible for the development and commercialization of drugs and devices. Their regular interactions with HCPs and KOLs, and their clinical, scientific and communications skillsets, make MSLs the ideal people to capture clinical and commercial insights.

What is a clinical insight and why is it important?

Healthcare professionals and KOLs manage patients and see first-hand the challenges and opportunities of existing and new therapies. They can also offer insights into unmet needs in treatment and care that may be useful in drug development and post-marketing communications.

For clinical insights to be useful in informing medical affairs strategy, these need to be gathered both proactively and reactively, and must be:

  • relevant
  • actionable
  • consistent
  • timely
  • strategic
  • reliable

Clinical insights may not always be 'complete' in themselves; they may be built from different fragments of discrete information that form small pieces in the larger overall picture – provided from different sources.

Gathering clinical insights

There are three key steps to insight gathering from MSLs:

  • Appropriately identify insights.
  • Determine the confidentiality of an insight.
  • Effectively document the insight using a communication tool.

Clinical insights can come from a variety of different sources which may include information picked up in conversations, formal communications and feedback from KOLs or the wider HCP team, or presentations at scientific meetings and publications

Interactions between MSLs and HCPs can include conversations about individual patients, and therefore are covered by patient confidentiality. MSLs need to understand how to identify what needs to be kept confidential, and how information can be captured and used without breaking clinical privacy.

To be of use, the clinical insights need to be documented and collated effectively and communicated rapidly and compliantly within the rest of the organization.

Capturing, collating and documenting clinical insights

Biopharma companies can only make use of clinical insights once they have been captured, collated and documented. However, like everyone within a biopharma company, MSLs are pressured for time, and so the process must be streamlined, and the MSLs need to be motivated to capture the insights. To improve capture, it is important to develop the right tools for the MSLs, educate them as to the value of the information that they are capturing, and showing them how this can benefit them in their role in the implementation of the medical plan. MSLs also need to be supported in describing the information they need to collect, especially where it concerns fragmented information – it is often hard for individuals to see where small details fit into and influence a bigger picture. Regular feedback within the medical team is critical to show the 'joining up'.

The tools

It's vital to be able to connect up clinical insights captured by different individuals and in different countries. Individual observations may be considered to be a one off, but if they are collated, they may be part of a pattern.

A common approach to gather insight is through customer relationship management (CRM) software, which is designed as an activity tool and principally used by sales teams. CRM software can pull information from websites, email, live chat, social media and marketing materials, and notes from meetings and phone calls can be added. Analytical CRM systems can add data mining, correlation and pattern recognition to analyze the data, and collaborative CRM systems allow input from teams other than sales, and from external providers, and both of these types of systems could be useful for collating information from MSLs.

One advantage of using the same CRM across a biopharma company is that other functional teams can access the information collected by the MSLs and use it to support commercial or market access discussions. This, however, will have privacy and compliance implications, so it is important to set strict parameters around its use and access, and provide guidance over what can be shared and with whom.

An innovative approach to collecting and collating clinical insights would be to use Wiki-type interfaces for knowledge management, where users can publish and store information hosted securely on a company's intranet. MSLs can add new content, update existing content, leave comments, have discussions, and create blogs. Pages can also be linked to other pages, creating connections between otherwise unconnected observations. Information stored can include text, images, audio, video, and downloads. The information can be structured or unstructured, though creating some degree of organization, for example using templates and key words, can help searching. Where users can update other users' posts, it's important to maintain a list of changes, to ensure that valuable information isn't lost.

The value of the insight

A framework for collecting and analyzing clinical insights, by putting together a mosaic of information and creating a bigger picture, is a valuable tool for a biopharma company in terms of commercial insight and demonstrating it is 'actively listening'. It is important, however, that the tools are compliant and auditable, easy to use, and have a clear value for the users, and that the insights collected are relevant, actionable, consistent, timely, strategic and reliable.

The insights collected will only reach their true value, however, if actions are actually being taken. This is where the MSL can take the next step, by using their communication skills to make sure that the right people see the right data and insights at the right time. This applies for both internal processes and decision-making, as well as with external stakeholders.


To find out more about how MSLs can support both internal and external decision making, please read our recent white paper.