Tips for Medical Science Liaisons: It’s Not Only About How Much You Know

An exciting barrage of medical breakthroughs for complex conditions like cancer and AIDS means more complicated molecules and mechanisms of action, and less time for healthcare professionals (HCPs) to stay up to date. The role of medical science liaisons (MSLs) has never been more important.

As the liaison between a pharmaceutical company and healthcare professionals (HCPs) for a specific therapy, MSLs are on the front lines. And while every pharmaceutical company has its own guidelines and expectations, a priority of every MSL is to ensure that physicians, nurses, and other HCPs receive important, credible, and timely information.

That being said, delivering every single piece of data to answer an HCP’s questions is not the same as the HCP actually being able to process all of that information. Herein lies the struggle. Indeed, the dilemma facing today’s MSLs is: “How much is too much?” versus “How much is just enough?” Asked another way, does telling all you know have a point of diminishing return?

To help answer this enduring and vexing question, we’ve developed five tips based on decades of experience, to help MSLs improve communications with HCPs.

  1. Know your HCP. Not all HCPs are the same. Each may have a different level of experience or understanding of a specific therapy. Truly understanding how much they know about your therapy (and your competitor’s), what their beliefs are, and whom they respect is critical in understanding them and preparing your communications.
  2. Check in. Before you begin delivering data, engage the HCP in a discussion to make sure you understand their questions, as well as the context in which they is being asked. Framing your answers in the format of a discussion allows you to determine how well the information you are communicating is being understood. Ask simple questions, like:
    • “Is this what you are looking for?”
    • “Does it make sense?”
    • “Is this what you were expecting?”
    • “Do you need more detail?”

These questions will help you determine how much – or how much more – information is needed.

  1. Respect the clock. Time is precious. One of the best relationship builders with an HCP is to confirm how much time they have at the beginning of your meeting and proceed accordingly. That means not only preparing your communications to fit the allotted schedule, but also leaving enough time for questions. If it looks like your time is running over, don’t wear out your welcome; instead check to see whether it’s OK to continue or if they would rather have you come back at a more convenient time.
  2. Less is more. One of the fastest ways to turn off an HCP (or any other listener for that matter) is to give such a long answer to a question that they are afraid to ask another. In your attempt to be thorough, you may overload the HCP with more information than they actually want – or could possibly recall. Studies on retention have consistently shown that, on average, 40% of information received is lost within an hour, 60% within a day, and 90% within a week. When overloaded with information, the brain begins to lose or distort what’s been heard. Many HCPs pass on your information to their colleagues after having only heard it just once, so over-sharing runs a high risk of being inaccurately translated.
  3. Structure your response. When asked how they read scientific studies in medical journals, HCPs often say the first (and often only) thing they look at is the abstract or the conclusion. If they want to know more they will read the article. But first, they need to be brought into the story by understanding where it ends. In answering an HCP’s questions, follow the same process. Begin with the conclusion. Ask yourself, “What is the most important takeaway message for this HCP?” If you got it right and delivered it credibly, you will pique the HCP’s interest and you can deliver the proof points and clinical data that prove your conclusion. If they want more, let them ask for it. Bottom line: deliver your information the way most HCPs like to receive it.

Although HCPs seek out MSLs for a variety of reasons, what remains constant is the need for easily understood information that’s on point, well supported, and most importantly, useable and transferrable. Ask yourself, “Is my information structured so it can be easily applied and accurately repeated to someone else?” If the answer is yes, then you’re not only an effective communicator, you’re a valuable ongoing resource for the HCP.

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