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Technology Take-over

When I get home from work this evening, the first thing I will probably do is check my phone to see if I’ve received any messages or emails during my commute. Then, because it is in my hands already, I might see if anyone has put anything exciting on Facebook or Linked In, or maybe open the News App to see if anything interesting is happening. Meanwhile, my wife, who got home before me, will almost certainly be playing a round of Candy Crush, my son will be watching YouTube videos about Fortnite, and my daughter will be browsing endless Instagram photos of her friends. At some point during the course of the evening, we might, if we’re lucky, get a chance to eat together and perhaps talk about our days at work and school.

Okay, I’m being slightly facetious here, but this is a scenario that plays out to a greater or lesser extent in a vast number of households throughout the developed world. The impact technology – specifically, hand-held technology – has had on our day to day lives is enormous. We are all living life in a very different way to a couple of decades ago.


Of course, this technological innovation has an impact on how we work as well. How many times this week have you sent an email to someone just across the room from you, rather than talking to them? And how many times have you found yourself checking your phone or laptop during a meeting or conversation?

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New technology has become so important to us simply because it offers us so much. And it’s no surprise that the Pharmaceutical Industry has rapidly adopted, repurposed and utilised technology to suit its own goals. Running clinical trials is made easier through home- monitoring solutions and patient self-reported outcomes on their smart phones. CRMs, although often considered to be the bane of the field force’s lives, has made the day to day call planning, recording and reporting considerably easier than it used to be. Voting pads and smartphone apps have made symposia and meetings more interactive and engaging than ever before. And, of course, the availability of iDetails has meant that informative, animated and compelling data is only a click and a swipe away.

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Technology and the MSL


So how do MSLs use technology? To answer this question, we need to look at what MSLs do. The primary function of an MSL is to be the external HCP-facing representative of the Medical Department. Being non-promotional, they shouldn’t be involved in any activity which promotes the use of the company’s products, but they should be very familiar with the products and the wider disease area, and be equipped to handle any questions raised by people they speak to.

Having a store of fully approved MSL slide decks and clinical papers (copyright permitting, of course) on a tablet or laptop is clearly an advantage. Being able to pull up the relevant data as soon as the question is asked adds credibility and enhances the peer-to-peer discussion. Some companies use the tablet as a presentation device, doing away with laptops altogether. But even in a one-to-one situation, knowing which slide to turn to in order to illustrate your point can sometimes make a big difference.

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The Downsides to Technology


However, it’s not all great news. As someone who has line managed MSLs over the last ten years, I’ve seen some fantastic practice with regards to IT, and some not-so-great practice as well. As illustrated with my tongue-in-cheek introduction, technology serves as a distraction. It’s very easy to focus on the electronic – it’s almost (to steal an IT analogy) hardwired in our behaviour now. If, in the midst of a conversation, someone brings out an iPad, all eyes go down to the device. Interpersonal eye contact is lost, and in many cases, the only way to get it back is to replace the device back in the bag. With this in mind, it’s really important that, if you want to use a slide or electronic paper to illustrate a point, an MSL needs to really consider if it’s worth the interruption.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that even if you have the physical ability to answer a question instantaneously, by bringing up a clinical paper for example, it may not give you the time to make sure it’s the right answer or the best paper to answer the question. Sometimes, a little bit of time can help, to ensure the answer given or the paper shown to a healthcare professional is the best one for the job.

The use of any form of visual aid, whether electronic or physical can run the risk of turning a two way peer-to-peer conversation into a “show and tell” exercise as well. MSLs need to develop and continually practice the conversation skills necessary to make every interaction a valuable one for both parties – one in which needs and issues are identified, explored and addressed and where both parties feel listened to.

I have been in many MSL-HCP visits, as an MSL, as a line manager, and, prior to all that, as a healthcare professional. I have used IT in some, and not in others. In my view, the difference between a good discussion and a not-so-good discussion is not about whether IT is used – it is much more about the general feel of the conversation, of feeling that the participants are mutually “getting somewhere” and that each party finds it of interest and valuable. If technology is used appropriately to facilitate that, then that’s great. If it interrupts it, then perhaps it should have stayed in your bag…

I feel very strongly about the importance of good quality medical/scientific interactions – so much so that I have moved away from Medical Affairs and joined ACHiiVE, a market-leading company providing innovative, state-of-the-art solutions to improve performance in field- based teams, and coaching for line reports. We specialise in improving the MSL-HCP dynamic, highlighting the need for high quality communications with appropriate use of IT and other resources. We can provide a range of experiential learning programmes for MSLs as well as tools and training for MSL coaches.

Please contact us to find out more.

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