What is Medical Affairs Leadership?
by Dr. Alexander Tolmachev
Medical Affairs departments were initially formed to facilitate peer-to-peer scientific interactions between physicians and industry more that 40 years ago. Later alterations in the regulatory environment have resulted in a shift of activities perviously managed by Marketing to Medical Affairs. Between 2002 and 2008 there occurred a substantial organizational change with an increased share of Medical Affairs departments acquiring independence from Marketing. Now Medical Affairs is still tightly linked to Marketing projects and routine practices as an internal advisory department specialized in medical sciences and compliance. At the same time Medical Affairs is responsible for building long term relationship with scientific and medical communities. These two types of interactions are possible in condition of sustainable Medical Affairs Leadership. What is expected from Medical Affairs people remain the leaders?
1. Inspire the vision of the future with your scientific insights. Your scientific and legal competence is the power allowing you to see the future success. Use your expertise to build up a new picture of collaboration of your company and medical communities, tell the stakeholders your story and be the change.
2. Set high standards of healthcare ethics by own example. Business will always consider financial results a top priority despite the changes in regulatory requirements. Matrix environments provide great opportunities for Medical Affairs to contribute to potential risks mitigation in the teams and to be acknowledged as a ethical "gate keeper". Compliance with the procedures and integrity as a personal value of Medical Affairs people will serve as a landmark of business conduct for the internal partners.
3. Prepare the long term success of your company. Indeed valuable contribution of Medical Affairs is mostly aimed to the company long term future. Remaining only reactive towards stakeholders' requests will decrease Medicals' influence on the future and turn them into a pure support function. Make patient health benefit your priority in interaction with external stakeholders (this obviously will not be achievable overnight).
4. Earn trust with your stakeholders every day. Medical Affairs have an advantage over business in credibility with external stakeholders - Medicals are reported to be more trusted, even more trusted than physician peer speakers at speaker programs. Ability to carry out unsolicited peer-to-peer communications that include off-label, consideration of costs related to disease state, approaches to overall patient management and the potential benefits of appropriate care give Medical Affairs an opportunity to acquire trust in interaction with external stakeholders on daily basis. Besides your trust funds within the company will play the key role when your partners will decide whether they want to follow you.
5. Influence through education. Investigate the knowledge gaps and needs and provide the useful data. Be the one who will convert sophisticated information to clear and intelligible messages and next time people will come again and ask for your help. If you are continuously educating your stakeholders, you are already influencing and leading them.
6. Make your stakeholder needs serve a basis for your success. The only way to make your stakeholders buy-in is meet their expectations. Use any opportunity to investigate their needs, satisfy them, be open to feedback and that will make you a partner of choice.
7. Consider the feedback and criticism your greatest opportunity. Obviously when you are a key partner of business, you need regular feedback to change and grow. The same is about external stakeholders. If you receive a complaint or a criticism shower this first of all means that your stakeholder is seeking dialog with you. Use that immediately as a chance to look into their real needs better. Who knows, often right approach to complaint management brings your relationship on a new level of trust.
8. Invite other departments into your story. In matrix structures you have a lot of opportunities to practice internal leadership without people management functionality. Help your cross-functional colleagues to buy-in your projects. When you communicate them the picture of your common success they will probably get engaged quicker.
9. Measure and communicate your contribution. It is hard to measure the intangible, but it is possible. Use both qualitative and quantitative metrics. Demonstrate the numbers and the dynamics linked with Medical Affairs contribution. Be flexible - sometimes there might be no need to dive too deep to pick up your pearl.