Best practices in communicating the importance/value of diagnostics for life sciences companies include producing and using value dossiers with scientific evidence and enhancing customer experience and communications.
PRACTICE #1: Know The Audience
- Before any communication analysis can begin, it is crucial to understand the audience. While scientists routinely communicate with each other via scientific journals, lab reports, lectures, and papers, not all corporate communications are targeted to technical audiences. It is crucial to understand what they already know about the topic, the right amount of background information required, and the audience’s preferred delivery method, “whether it’s email, video, phone call, text message, face-to-face meeting, presentation, success story, or press release.”
PRACTICE #2: Carefully Plan Every Message
- The best framework for communicating a message was created by Aristotle, who said “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.” Once the message and intentions are clearly and concisely stated, build the content hierarchically.
- Focus on what is likely to be most interesting and relevant to the audience with the high-level message, and then drill down into the details that may only interest the more specialized scientifically knowledgeable audience. Finish with a clear message and, if appropriate, a call to action.
PRACTICE #3: Give Context
- Why does context matter? Answering the “So What” message early will pique the audience’s interest. Especially for a science company, it may be important to provide enough background information to make the message relatable and meaningful to them.
- This should include how the information is “new or different from opinion, speculation, anecdotal evidence or even past scientific results.”
PRACTICE #4: Don’t Dumb Down the Science
- A science company should not be afraid to practice science communications, which involves telling people about the great work being done — and why it’s important. That doesn’t give the scientists free rein to bury the message in complex scientific jargon.
- The balance required is to strive for clarity and simplicity while at the same time remembering that this communication does not have to explain everything.
- If necessary, provide “links to other resources for additional background and explanations. An important part of respecting the audience is being mindful of their prior knowledge.”
PRACTICE #5:Use Visuals to Communicate
- Words are always important, but especially in the scientific area, strong visuals will enhance communication by helping the audience understand better and more quickly. Best practices suggest mixing the “following types of visuals into your communications wherever appropriate: graphs, charts, infographics, photographs, illustrations, conceptual diagrams, and maps. Purposeful use of colors can also help draw attention to and convey key points and conclusions.”
PRACTICE #6: Use Analogies and Metaphors
- “Corporate communications for science-based companies often lean heavily on metaphors, which can help make complex concepts more accessible.”
- Modern Western biomedicine is organized around a series of basic metaphors: the body as a machine, the body as the site of battle, and the body as a communication system. Traditional Chinese medicine, on the other hand, uses images of flow and blockage, balance and imbalance, and works by analogy with five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.
- Because they sometimes communicate unintended ideas, you should use analogies and metaphors carefully when communicating to lay audiences or risk muddling your message and confusing or distracting your audience. The same holds true for clichés.
PRACTICE #7: Engage the Audience in Person
- While press releases have a role, it is important to create opportunities to create face-to-face communications by getting scientific leaders out in front of employers, investors, or other stakeholders, especially for major news.
- In designing the interaction, it is important to ensure there is time for questions and answers. It is also important that the speaker “think about the audience and how they might react to and process the information being presented. They can anticipate many of their questions, which makes it possible to prepare some answers in advance.”
PRACTICE #8: Engage the Audience Virtually
- In today’s environment, it may not be practical to present in person. Continue to take advantage of the company website and social media to engage the audience online. That should include regular or special posts on social media or building out the FAQ section.
- For online channels like social media, it is important to assign posting and monitoring comments to a single person or team to ensure that the organization is using a consistent tone of voice.
- Also, depending on the topic of communication, it would be useful to have a plan in place for how to best respond to any anti-science feedback.
PRACTICE #9: Give Your Representatives Media Training
- “Anyone who appears in front of the media on the company’s behalf should be trained in public speaking and making presentations. Beyond basic communications skills, this kind of training teaches speakers how to define and understand their audience, develop a narrative, and come across as relatable and human.
- This typically requires several sessions and lots of practice, so it’s important to start long before a scheduled appearance or event. Ongoing practice and training also help speakers be prepared for unexpected challenges, such as a crisis or controversial situation that requires careful handling.”
PRACTICE #10: Cite Your Sources
- In the book “On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research,” the authors clearly indicate the role of citations: “Citations serve many purposes … They acknowledge the work of other scientists, direct the reader toward additional sources of information, acknowledge conflicts with other results, and provide support for the views expressed in the paper. More broadly, citations place a paper within its scientific context, relating it to the present state of scientific knowledge.”
- Given the deluge of information, especially via the internet, it is more important than ever for scientific companies to properly cite sources. Take the time to cite sources to substantiate the messaging being communicated.
PRACTICE #11 (BONUS PRACTICE): Give Kudos
- It’s rare that a scientist or science company works alone in a true vacuum, so the company needs to acknowledge the contributions of others. This involves recognizing intellectual contributions but also recognizing those persons who contributed materially to their work.
- Reveal specific challenges the company overcame with the help of others. This can authenticate brand stories, “which can enhance corporate communications for science-based companies by humanizing technical information.”
Best Practice #12: Produce and Use Value Dossiers with Scientific Evidence
- Life sciences companies need to show payers the value/importance of their solutions. These companies need to show the health systems how their solutions/products will help them by offering a better diagnosis.
- According to Israel Garcia, Werfen’s Country Manager Director for Germany and Austria, “this means producing value dossiers with the highest possible scientific evidence to show the benefit of IVDs to payers and health systems.”
- According to KPMG, one of the five ways life sciences companies can use to enhance their value to customers is making “more of data to demonstrate diagnostics’ value and enhance care.”
- According to KPMG, “arguably the most effective way to show value is to produce clear and credible data on the wellbeing and survival rates of patients as a result of frequent, early diagnostics.” These statistics could also indicate treatment costs savings and productivity.
- Examples of companies implementing the best practice include Cepheid and Roche. Cepheid uses data from its rapid molecular testing of Flu/RSV to show the effectiveness of the test. According to the company, rapid molecular testing of Flu/RSV leads to an 18% reduction of tests to perform, 17% reduction of prescribed antibiotics, and $200-$669 ED savings per patient visit.
Best Practice #13: Enhance Customer Experience and Communications
- Life sciences companies can enhance customer experience by offering laboratory visits, new tests discussions, training, and workshops.
- It is important for life sciences companies to work closely with medical experts such as technologists, physicists, and “doctors to understand how services could be improved.”
- Companies can also organize other communication campaigns such as congresses, “engage doctors digitally to carry out surveys, and build a community of practitioners.”
- According to KPMG, “customer experience — whether business-to-business or business-to-customer — is a major factor in determining perceived value. For those companies eager to improve their brand, a starting point is to systematically record customer experience through simple feedback.”
- Companies such as Siemens offer training and workshops to medical experts including physicians, physicists, and technologists.
Case Study #1: Roche — An Integrated Corporate Publicity Program
- Roche is a large multi-national Swiss pharmaceutical and healthcare company that produces a multitude of healthcare products. It now employs around 55,000 people worldwide.
- This case study outlines how the multi-product, multi-national company developed an “integrated Corporate Publicity Programme” for its UK divisions to improve communications both externally and internally.
- Roche has a multi-divisional organizational structure, with four separate business divisions based at various locations throughout the UK. Each division has a high degree of control over the way it runs its business:
- “The Diagnostics Division develops, produces, and markets systems to improve the detection, evaluation, and monitoring of disease.”
- “The Pharmaceuticals Division develops, produces, and markets prescription drugs to combat human disease.”
- “The Consumer Health Division concentrates on some of the best known over-the-counter pharmaceutical brands in the UK, including Sanatogen®, Rennie®, Redoxon®, and Aspro®.”
- “The Vitamins Division manufactures and markets a range of vitamins and mixes for animal and human nutrition, food production, healthcare, and cosmetics industries.”
- Roche is the market leader in three of these four business areas.
- Roche’s goal was to create an integrated approach to its products, centered around a ‘cycle of care’. Research from the medical affairs department helped Roche to identify the people most at risk from a particular disease. The company then distributed targeted screening tests that identify when this predisposition might lead to illness. The goal is to help prevent the disease from developing.
- If someone already has the disease, a fast and accurate diagnosis is the optimum in providing effective treatment. In addition, monitoring therapies allow “medicines and treatment to be tailored to the individual patient’s needs.” It is hoped that these actions lead to “a feeling of well-being which is supported by Roche’s other product lines.”
- When the initiative to create an integrated approach began, Roche UK already had corporate communications objectives. These were to:
- The project goal was to
- Organized project teams with cross-divisional cooperation in order to involve all employees. This was done by assigning the representatives, who contributed different types of expertise such as research and development, production and marketing the responsibility of collecting ideas and input from all the staff from their division and “representing these at the project team meetings. Progress was then reported back to the various sites.”
- In building the communication strategy, “site briefings, videos, competitions, team challenge events, balloon races, and coach trips” raised awareness of the project internally. Project members also produced a newsletter, wrote articles for Roche’s in-house magazine, and “used the company intranet and notice boards to inform all employees about its progress.”
- Examined all forms of formal and informal communication and produced a corporate hospitality package and a media dossier about Roche’s activities to provide to guests and other sponsors at the exposition.
- Roche invited and briefed key figures in the media world. The hospitality suites at the exhibition were used extensively throughout the exhibition to entertain and educate customers, journalists, and employees as a reward for their work.
- Roche also collected statistics on corporate recognition before the project to use as a baseline for further comparisons. The results are not publicly available.
- The project organization encouraged the staff to work together and “helped to build a sense of corporate, rather than divisional or site, identity.”
- Co-operation across divisions opened up lines of informal communication, which will prove useful to the company.
- The workforce demonstrated more knowledge about the activities of the different divisions and understood how each division contributed to corporate objectives, which resulted in more motivated staff. The sense of belonging and identifying with the corporate and divisional objectives improved productivity in all the divisions.
- There is no breakdown of roles and responsibilities because members from each area were assigned to the project team.
Case Study #2: Thermo Fisher — Story-Based Employer Brand Launch
Overview and Goals
- Thermo Fisher has approximately 55,000 employees, in diverse fields including the research, healthcare, industrial, and applied markets.
- It sells over one million products from 600 global locations and fills 12,000 requests for new hires per year.
- Originally Thermo Fisher relied on its mission, vision, and values when communicating the core, strategic influences that used within “the organization to guide their decisions and influence their behavior.”
- A new brand leader joined Thermo Fisher and knew that if the company continued “to let their expectations of employees guide their conversations with candidates, they were not going to hit their hiring goal.”
- The new leader stated “When you step back and analyze what the words behind our mission, vision, and values represent, they are our company’s expectations for how we behave and the projects worthy of our time. From an employee’s perspective, there is not a single reference to what the company offers its people in exchange for meeting these expectations. When you lead with these attributes in candidate outreach, you are missing the WITFM (what’s in it for me).”
- Working with a consulting firm, Thermo Fischer researched the companies real personality — the stories, history, and soul that influenced the work and the culture. Leaders, rainmakers, culture-bearers gather stories. They conducted focus groups and a company-wide survey.
- The company then established a branding committee with representatives from corporate, sales and marketing, research, and product to gather all points of view.
- The result of the research clarified and summarized what the company offered candidates and why they should come and work for Thermo Fisher. This deliverable, called the Employee Value Proposition, guided the work throughout the process and was used again and again as a touchstone for the evolving creative.
- Building upon the framework of the EVP resulted in the development of the recruitment marketing creative (careers site, social/digital assets, candidate collateral, advertisements, recruiting booth, etc.).
- The final step before activation was to develop the content strategy, which included employee profiles, images, videos, and articles. We spent time building a robust content library that demonstrated how the company delivers on the EVP.
Brand Messaging Guidelines
- Brand messaging guidelines were produced by department (corporate, finance, sales, and marketing, research, HR) and by geography (Asia, Europe, America’s).
Roles and Responsibilities
- Analysis of roles and responsibilities show that corporate marketing was responsible for intranet, newsletters, recognition, and referral programs, while recruitment marketing was responsible for social media, relationship marketing, events, career site, paid media, and the mobile recruiting site.
- 123% increase in global career site visits
- 162% increase in apply clicks
- Application to hire ratio reduced by 56%
- Reduced media cost per hire (CPH) by more than 60%, reduced total CPH by 11%
- Employee referrals grew 6.4%
- Time to fill decreased by 47%
- Fastest growing bio-pharma brand on Glassdoor growing more than 2x the rates of their competitors.
Astra Zeneca — Diagnoses and Treatment of CVRM diseases
- Astra Zeneca is a British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company with its headquarters in Cambridge, England. AstraZeneca has a portfolio of products for major disease areas including cancer, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, infection, respiratory, and inflammation.
Goals and Objectives
- Astra Zeneca was interested in finding a way to diagnose and treat cardiovascular, renal, and metabolic (CVRM) diseases. The treatment can be especially complicated because one disease is often connected to the other. That also means symptoms can be masked or overlooked, which impairs accurate diagnoses.
- Astra Zeneca, therefore, wanted to show healthcare professionals how some of the biggest diseases interconnect and help them understand the importance of examining their patients more holistically.
- In so doing, they hoped to position themselves as an important partner for Health care providers with their extensive knowledge and pipeline of medicines for CVRM diseases. Whatever was developed had to be something that could be easily translated for international use.
- Using a tube map, the company “created the world’s first visualized disease map to show the connections between four separate diseases.”
A full communications strategy and campaign to support the release of the patient pathway map was developed.
- Health care practitioners were targeted online and at medical congresses and industry events
- The campaign was deployed across AstraZeneca’s worldwide network, along with explanatory materials on how to use
- Targeted digital promotions led Healthcare Professionals to the videos on LinkedIn and YouTube
- Patient films were featured at AstraZeneca booths and media events
- The campaign was promoted on AstraZeneca’s website through a LabTalk article penned by AstraZeneca’s Global Medical Affairs VP
- A social media editorial calendar was created to ensure a regular drumbeat of communications.
Roles and Responsibilities
- While medical affairs were involved in creating the patient pathway map, corporate communication was responsible for the global strategy and campaign.
Communication Responsibilities in HealthCare and Life Sciences
- Medical affairs departments typically handle a wide variety of medical communications with prescribers, the provision of grants to fund investigators studies, as well as various additional research and other tasks.
- Communications overseen by a medical affairs department may include safety information, responding to requests for information about off-label usage, publications, and independent medical education. While the government has encouraged the formation of independent medical affairs departments, there are no requirements that must be followed in the operation of a medical affairs department.
- The jobs and functions that often occur within medical affairs include roles in publication planning, in-house medical information, and health outcomes researchers. Many companies also have field-based medical science liaisons (MSLs) and economics liaisons.
- The results of a benchmarking survey of medical affairs professionals in Canada was conducted by the Canadian Pharmaceutical Association. It also facilitated discussions on current trends.
- During the facilitated discussion, Medical Affairs staff were asked about their roles within the department, the trends they have observed, the “knowledge and skills required to make them most effective, and the needs they can identify as they look to the future state of MA.”
- In general, the Medical Affairs Department is seen as the “leaders in medical, scientific, and pipeline knowledge for the organization with a composition of medical advisors, medical science managers, and medical science liaisons. Some indicated that the Continuing Health Education (CHE) function is now part of the department structure.”
- The responsibilities of the department that were cited include:
- Misperceptions and misunderstandings about the role of Medical Affairs and its employees. The understanding is improved if the leadership is from a medical background.
- The perceived value of the department and the role of Medical Affairs varies.
- “Part of the challenge expressed by MA personnel is that the commercial side of the business measures impact by revenue generated ($) compared to MA which does not.”
- Another challenge described was that “other departments do not understand the importance of Medical Affairs and consequentially MA frequently has to justify and re-justify itself.”
- Increasing role (due to external factors) but not increasing budget accordingly
- Culture and especially changes in company leadership
- Top-down approach in leadership
- Battle to win internal support (selling MA’s role and capabilities internally)
- Compliance becoming a bigger challenge — internal stakeholders unaware of roadblocks
- Products have greater complexity and breadth of treatment
- Reimbursement getting more challenging
- Industry perception — Pharma collaboration discouraged in most Medical schools
Perceived training needs were identified and include:
- Company structure and systems
- Product and disease/therapeutic area knowledge
- How to read a clinical paper
- Know the criteria for clinical trials
- Study Design
- Change management
- Pre-call planning
- Communication skills
- Business planning responsiveness
Expected Future States
- Factors that may impact the role of medical affairs, their impact, and their needs to become most effective include:
- Big Data strategies including critical paths & publication strategies
- Knowing the right criteria for Real World Data (RWD) & aligning on Global meaning
- Improved foundation communication skills to perfect/refine the stories.
- Understanding the deeper context as to what payors need
- Ability to manage constant change in submissions and regulatory
- Reimbursement strategies increasing in importance
- Market Access requires more and more support from Medical Affairs
- Highly-informed patient advocates are driving change
- Gathering Therapeutic Area, Brand(s) and Competition insights
- Artificial Intelligence and its impact on Medical Sciences
- How to interpret and integrate insights from social media
- Patient journey mapping — Real-world impact
- ALL co-morbidities (patient health)
- Personalized medicine — Understand and interpret the impact of personalized medicine
- Complexity of diseases/indications — rare disease, tumors, etc.
Evolving role of medical affairs department in life sciences
- “A number of published reports have highlighted the growing role of Medical Affairs in helping healthcare providers (HCPs) navigate the new data-driven, patient-centric, evidence-based information landscape. HCPs are not the only stakeholders in this effort. Effectively communicating data and scientific insights to the growing array of parties involved in the purchasing decision “scaffold” is a major challenge for life science companies. This is made more complex by the shifting communication channels enabled by digital technology. Because of the ongoing commitment to balanced scientific communication free of commercial objectives, sales representatives, traditionally relied upon to communicate new information, play a diminishing role in this regard. This gap requires a Medical Affairs function with strong scientific credentials, outstanding communication skills, and the facility to operate cross-functionally both within Pharma companies and across external stakeholder groups.”
Major themes and key issues
- Recognition and Support
- Navigating the difference between commercial and scientific roles. Sales personnel are increasingly and justifiably bringing Medical Affairs into the picture when discussions move into the scientific area. Participants in this study expressed concern that Medical Affairs could be perceived by HCPs as part of the commercial process.
- Life Cycle Management is an issue as relying on Medical Affairs for too long after a product launch runs a serious risk of compromising HCP’s perception of the medical affairs department’s scientific integrity. MA was consistently described as the key liaison between internal and external stakeholders on the latest medical/scientific developments.
- The view of MA as a consistent discipline has important implications for Global and Local training.
The following chart summarizes the participants’ perceived gaps in alignment:
Recommendations from participants
- Medical affairs departments need to be funded appropriately as part of risk management
- The department needs to ensure scientific independence to preserve credibility and avoid confounding with commercial objectives
- Policies should limit MA presence post-launch to a reasonable time frame (6 mo. — 1 year)
- Metrics and KPI’s should be related to relevant MA competencies and objectives, not to commercial goals
- Local external training for “soft skills” that are specific to MA should be provided.
- “Training and certification of external MA candidates would be an important time-saver and produce better hiring outcomes.”