Deb Mathews is a senior medical affairs executive with over 20 years experience leading medical affairs teams. She has managed medical affairs CRM tools and systems for field-based and headquarters teams.

Deb Mathews, medical affairs CRM expert

The medical science liaison (MSL), a critical field-based function in Medical Affairs, has evolved tremendously over the last 10 years. A recent study by the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs (ACMA) shows that there has been a 300% increase in the number of MSLs in the industry over the last 15 years. The study also projects 47% growth in the next five years. However, technology systems, insight gathering platforms, and methods for comprehensive communication and engagement have not kept pace with the specialized needs of these MSL teams.  

Most Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems in use by medical affairs teams today were originally built for Pharmaceutical Sales Reps. As such, they are focused on commercial value ONLY.  But there is a significant difference in the type of value that MSLs bring to organizations.  Additionally, other in-house medical affairs professionals are interacting with external experts (EEs) or key opinion leaders (KOLs) more often.  Better coordination between these connected teams is key.

The growing importance of actionable insights in medical affairs cannot be overstated. Today’s medical affairs organizations need to have the inside scoop on what is happening in the medical community. Moreover, they need to be able to pivot their strategy as needed to drive results and value.  Both human and artificial intelligence are critical to generating and understanding the information gathered by MSLs and other medical affairs professionals.  This is why an effective CRM built specifically for medical affairs organizations from its inception is important.

ACMA Engage

ACMA Engage™ is the only CRM platform built from the ground up for medical affairs professionals in the life sciences industry. Engage captures the breadth and depth of MSL activities with built-in capabilities that reflect the full range of what MSLs do.  For example, the system is designed to facilitate flexible scientific presentations, on-the-spot responses to requests for medical information, clinical trial support and a range of other medical-specific activities. But commercially focused CRM systems support none of these without major customization.

Many of the functions that in-house and field medical affairs professionals are engaged in are long-term endeavors and their results are a combination of both quantitative and qualitative metrics.  ACMA Engage™ enables Artificial Intelligence (AI) Insights, powered by enhanced analytics. The system captures activities such as:

  • phase IV trial management
  • a 360-degree view of HCP interactions
  • thought leader identification and segmentation
  • territory planning
  • virtual KOL interactions
  • outcomes-based educational activities

The new CRM platform is provided as Software as a Service (SaaS), which produces less administrative burden and lower operating costs. The SaaS system is designed for interoperability and can integrate with most widely used CRM systems. This adds greater autonomy for medical affairs as well as flexibility to open up additional features.

ACMA Engage is the first CRM platform which incorporates training and certification for MSLs into the CRM itself.  MSL progress can then be tagged in the CRM system enabling medical affairs leaders to analyze the impact of training and certification for their MSLs long term by looking at key metrics.   

Value of Accreditation

ACMA Engage is also the first Medical CRM platform delivered by an accredited organization. The life sciences industry is a heavily regulated sector.  Because of this, mitigating risk and liability is paramount to any pharmaceutical company.  With ACMA Engage, companies have greater peace of mind knowing that the ACMA is accredited, which means that the ACMA has to adhere to higher standards of excellence than traditional vendors. 

The new CRM system builds on PubMed’s tag system to standardize and build patterns from the free text sections of the MSL’s data entry. The system gives administrators peace of mind by organizing and directing useful data structures in real-time as MSLs record their interactions. Finally, the ACMA Engage platform has two-factor authentication and is HIPAA-compliant for significantly better security than other CRMs. This provides better safeguards to prevent security breaches.

Looking Ahead – The New Era in Medical Affairs

Today’s effective medical affairs professional needs to go beyond a comprehensive understanding of their therapeutic area(s). They must also bring differentiated insights and adapt to changing market dynamics.  If successful, MSLs will be able to distinguish themselves and stand out to their KOLs and thereby raise the credibility of their organization. One key trend emerging to improve MSL reputations with their KOLs is medical affairs board certification. The only accredited certification for MSLs and other medical affairs professionals is the Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist (BCMAS) program.  

Companies need to evolve beyond their traditional documentation processes for KOL interactions. When they take a macroscale view of KOL relationship strategy, they can more effectively engage multiple medical affairs stakeholders. This in turn will provide valuable insights that truly drive business and inform clinical strategy. ACMA Engage™ offers new tools and strategies that will help medical affairs organizations become more responsive and better equipped to meet the needs of the rapidly changing healthcare ecosystem.