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

My previous article on survey research focused on tactical considerations for using research to assess your medical science liaison (MSL) team. Understanding the nuts and bolts is vital, but it encompasses only a part of the elements required to make your medical affairs teams the Partner of Choice™. The second and equally important focus should involve a strategic assessment of your target key opinion leaders (KOLs).

Understanding KOL need segmentation

Most Medical Affairs teams view the KOLs developed by internal and external consultants as having similar needs. Research has shown that KOLs in virtually every therapeutic area have varying expectations from their MSLs. It is important to know whether your MSLs are spending vast number of hours with KOLs whose needs they cannot meet. It’s also important to know what your KOLS are looking for — whether it is presentation materials, information on clinical trials, speaker programs or advisory boards. To get the correct answers, it pays to ask these questions first:

  • Has your research partner determined the segmentation analytics necessary to strategically assist Medical Affairs teams to focus on the correct KOLs?
  • Are the segmentation analytics consistent across therapeutic areas?

Differentiating KOL roles

Many KOL universes include various health care professional (HCP) roles, which include physicians (MDs or DOs) as well as non-physicians, such as nurse practitioners, physician assistants, PharmDs, etc. The same approach may not succeed with each HCP sub-segment. The research partner needs to understand these roles.

  • Has your research partner created a technique to both identify these differences and create a follow-up assessment for optimum training of MSLs?

Addressing globalization

MSL teams are not limited to sites within the United States but are found in South America, Eastern and Western Europe, Pacific Rim nations and other countries throughout the world, such as India and Israel. Conducting research outside the United States and the English-speaking world raises challenges that include comprehension and other language issues as well as understanding the cultural nuances of the responses.

  • Has your research partner proactively dealt with language, culture and other global issues so valuable time is not lost at the outset of trials?
  • Have they had their interviewing document translated into key languages in anticipation of their use?
  • Do their analyses accommodate these differences?

Obtaining honest feedback

The common need that links tactical assessment with strategic assessment of your MSLs is to elicit honest and forthright opinions from your KOLs. Opinion leaders often have constant contact with MSLs and other pharmaceutical representatives; however, KOLs may not be willing to be totally honest with them for fear of jeopardizing relationships for future clinical trials or other needs. It is vital to introduce an independent voice into the process, thereby promising anonymity to all respondents while collecting information about the issues essential to the trial’s success. Guidelines are in place to ensure confidentiality.

  • Does your research partner follow all of the policies and rules set out by Council of American Society of Research Organizations (CASRO)?


A well thought-out research program should enable Medical Affairs Teams to achieve several key goals. Targeted survey research can help:

  • Separate KOLs into need segments and identify the size breakdown of each segment within a company’s regional definition
  • Identify the value that your MSLs bring to each KOL within a need segment and provide the ability to break down this value proposition by clinician role and by region of the world.
  • Create a report card of your MSLs in comparison to key competitors and identify those specific issues preventing your MSL teams from becoming the Partner of Choice.TM

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