3 medical affairs trends impacting the industry

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The healthcare world is in a constant state of flux. From game-changing technologies and breakthrough therapies to the shift to patient-centric care and a more crowded (and competitive) market than ever before, finding opportunities for growth and success is an increasingly complex challenge.

The medical affairs landscape is no different. As scientific discoveries and technological innovations accelerate, and patient needs evolve, medical affairs teams are at the forefront, redefining their role within organizations and their strategies to maximize impact.

As the bridge between your company and the medical community, you (or the medical affairs professional in your life) need to know which developments are impacting the market and what you can do to build better medical affairs strategies. Let’s explore a few of the latest medical affairs trends and discuss how they may shape this field in 2024 and in the years to come.

The AI advantage in medical affairs

Artificial intelligence has swept across nearly every corner of the healthcare industry in recent years. In the medical affairs world, AI promises to simplify and streamline two of the most daunting challenges: making sense of an ever-growing body of scientific data and transforming information into action.

As the scientific face of the company, medical affairs leaders and medical science liaisons (MSLs) need to absorb a truly formidable amount of data and make tactical decisions based on those inputs. It’s easy to understand why—manually sifting through a mountain of clinical trials, publications, presentations, social media activity, and more can be costly and time-consuming.

AI can be a game-changer here when it comes to boosting medical affairs efficiency. AI-powered tools can search through massive datasets of scientific research to identify articles, studies, real-world data, and clinical trials relevant to your therapy area. Beyond simply saving your team time, AI can also analyze vast amounts of data from the above sources, identify patterns, make predictions, and ultimately support medical affairs professionals with evidence-based insights. This intelligence can support a multitude of activities, from informing drug development to driving more meaningful conversations with KOLs, other experts, and healthcare providers.

Medical affairs teams can also use artificial intelligence to deepen their understanding of experts in a therapeutic area and recommend which experts to engage. Our Monocl Expert Suite leverages AI, expert activity data, and all-payor claims to deliver comprehensive visibility into an expert’s body of work and current activities to determine how influential they are. Understanding these activities illustrates a more robust view of the scientific landscape and can further support your expert engagement efforts.

Check out our intelligence report and industry survey for a deeper dive into how AI can benefit medical affairs teams and life sciences companies more broadly.

Collaboration will be king

With the adoption of AI, the growing value and importance of a well-oiled medical affairs team to their company is not to be underestimated. While AI-fueled insights can help guide strategic decision-making across the organization, internal communication and collaboration remain a challenge.

Traditionally, life sciences companies have operated in departmental silos, each team moving toward distinct goals and performance metrics. R&D might focus on scientific innovation and successful clinical trials, while marketing prioritizes brand awareness and sales targets. This departmental focus can lead to a lack of incentive for collaboration if success is measured in isolation.

However, the success of a life sciences company in today’s healthcare landscape hinges on collaboration across departments—and medical affairs professionals may be uniquely positioned to facilitate this.

It’s an obvious truth to say that a successful medical affairs team revolves around effective communication and collaboration. After all, they work closely with healthcare providers, KOLs, and regulatory bodies to translate complex data into clear information for various audiences. This inherent collaborative mindset could translate well into internal interactions, fostering a spirit of teamwork. The medical affairs team could be the connective tissue between the scientific community and R&D, marketing, sales, and other departments.

Communication, of course, works both ways and medical affairs activities can only improve when supported by other departments. For example, R&D can collaborate with medical affairs to enhance clinical study design and determine real-world data needs, ensuring clinical data meets rigorous scientific standards and addresses real-world challenges faced by HCPs and patients. Marketing personnel can offer commercial insights into healthcare provider needs or the major competitors in the area. Life sciences executives looking to stay ahead of the curve should recognize the (already incredible but) growing importance of medical affairs teams and work to establish clear lines of cross-functional communication.

The medical affairs skillset is changing

Between the emergence of AI and medical affairs’ increasing strategic importance across life science companies, medical affairs professionals are being propelled outside of their comfort zone.

Gone are the days when deep medical expertise alone sufficed. To thrive in this dynamic environment, medical affairs professionals need to become well-rounded individuals with the diverse skillset needed to navigate the shifting healthcare landscape and address the needs of both the modern provider and patient.

To cultivate more value from your medical affairs team, here are a few key skills they will need to develop in their newly expanded role:

  • Tech savviness. With the integration of AI-powered tools, medical affairs professionals will need to be comfortable utilizing these technologies and understand the capabilities, limitations, and ethical considerations.
  • Data fluency. Springboarding off the first point, new data analysis tools mean medical affairs professionals now need to be able to interpret data visualizations and statistical concepts. Those responsible for collateral development may need to be familiar with some programming languages to represent clinical findings in a way that resonates with healthcare providers.
  • Effective communication. More than just ‘knowing your audience,’ medical affairs teams need to consider their communication channel and how their message is delivered. For example, medical communications personnel should develop separate materials for providers and patients regarding a new drug. While patient materials should be designed to build health literacy, using plain language and focusing on benefits and side effects, materials for providers should instead focus on the drug’s mechanism of action, safety profile, and clinical trial data.
  • Patient-centric mindset. Medical affairs isn't just about science, it's about prioritizing patient well-being and ensuring new therapies address real-world needs. As the patient-centric movement continues to transform the healthcare industry, medical affairs professionals should think beyond the efficacy of their products and consider the steps that need to be taken to ensure optimal patient outcomes.

Learn more

The future of medical affairs is brimming with potential. By embracing the trends we've explored – AI, cross-functional collaboration, and a focus on upskilling – medical affairs teams can better position themselves as strategic partners and help their company uncover new opportunities for growth and success moving forward.

Of course, having the right healthcare commercial intelligence on hand will be vital to effectively demonstrate the value of your therapy, build impactful relationships with experts, and empower your team with the market context they need to make informed decisions. Start a free trial with Definitive Healthcare today to stay up-to-date on the latest healthcare trends and start creating better medical affairs strategies.

Ethan Popowitz

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Ethan Popowitz

Ethan Popowitz is a Senior Content Writer at Definitive Healthcare. He writes data-driven articles about telehealth, AI, the healthcare staffing shortage, and everything in…

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