Is Using Survey Research Valuable in Assessing Science Liaisons? A Tactical Assessment

If every teacher in a school used different marking criteria, it would be difficult to gauge what grades mean and how well students are doing. Yet that’s often the situation when it comes to evaluating the value proposition of their medical science liaison (MSL) programs and report cards for individual MSLs. Each pharmaceutical company’s medical affairs management team has created its own performance metrics. In addition to these internal metrics, many pharmaceutical companies have relied on basic satisfaction research to gain insights into their science liaisons’ performance. Due to the lack of robustness of this mode of research, most companies have struggled to identify the ideal performance system.
Survey research is an ideal MSL assessment tool for organizations that strive to be the Partner of Choice™ for their key opinion leaders (KOLs). These articles present some points to consider when developing an assessment strategy. Part I will address using research to tactically assess your MSLs.

Hitting the target

Research conducted to assess MSLs uses a methodology similar to general market research, but it must meet very specific needs. The sampling frames tend to be very limited, with a reasonably small number of multiple types of KOLs. This raises questions about the research partner’s specific experience:
Does your research partner have experience specifically related to science liaisons (MSLs, CSLs, etc.) or is their experience

  • limited to consumer, business-to-business and traditional pharmaceutical populations?
  • What is their approach to maximizing response rates given the small sampling frames?
  • Have they conducted their own research to determine key potential problem issues with Science Liaisons?

The need for a normative database

The key to successful research within the medical affairs arena is to separate the wheat from the chaff, to identify real issues from the occasional MSL-specific problem. In addition, each therapeutic area is unique and requires different information. For example, the needs of oncological KOLs, for example, differ from those of diabetes KOLs, which differ from those of cardiology KOLs. Apropos of that, questions to consider include:

  • Has your research partner created norms for Science Liaison assessments in specific therapeutic areas?
  • Does your partner have the ability to compare your MSLs to targeted competitors within the same treatment areas?

Streamlining the process

A targeted questionnaire is necessary to identify specific areas for improvement. Such a tool requires a considerable amount of time to develop. The process involves kick-off meetings to discuss business objectives, a qualitative phase to understand the nomenclature used by the target audience, and a sufficient pretest to ensure that the respondents fully understand the document. Since assessments of MSLs rarely have the luxury of time, this research process must be completed before the Medical Affairs management team needs it. Consider the following:

  • Has your research partner created a research platform that has already incorporated each of the pre-interviewing stages?
  • Has your research partner developed a survey that includes both the basic attributes common to all MSLs as well as modules that can be utilized for your therapeutic area?
  • Can the survey identify very specific problems with your MSL staff and how best to improve upon them?

These questions address tactical considerations for assessing MSL programs and individual MSL performance. In the following article in this series, I will address strategic MSL assessment.

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