Pharma has been moving toward digital slowly and steadily over a number of years; however, the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly pushed the medical affairs and market access arms of the industry to go completely remote for a while — with a lasting impact. Now, as we’re moving to the other side of the pandemic, medical affairs teams once again need to evaluate their customer engagement strategies, especially those for healthcare professionals (HCPs).

What changed due to the pandemic?

The pandemic imposed restrictions on face-to-face interactions by MSLs, which led to a change in the communication touchpoints and brought along a host of challenges. It forced medical affairs teams and field-based medicine groups to be more agile and reconsider their value offering to HCPs. In this pandemic scenario, 77% of HCPs were either “somewhat receptive” or “very receptive” to engaging virtually with MSLs, and 76% of HCPs would like to retain or even increase remote post-COVID-19 interactions. With this acceleration of digital adoption that will likely have a long-lasting impact, medical affairs teams must now work on how to add value and provide more relevant solutions.

What does the post-pandemic scene look like?

In a survey, over 40% HCPs reported that they plan to restrict who enters their office for professional reasons, including pharma reps; 28% plan to implement this practice permanently. In the same survey, 61% of the HCPs said they communicated more with pharma reps after the pandemic than they did before, but 57% stated that the reps don’t understand the real impact that the pandemic has had on them.

Thus, medical affairs teams need to talk to HCPs in a more connected way; the age-old practices of pushing just the key messages or a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work anymore. Value addition and customization have become indispensable. Medical affairs teams need to focus on what HCPs need and want the most and provide personalized solutions while being considerate.

Additionally, a recent poll showed that HCPs prefer video-conferencing the most, followed by messaging and phone calls. On the other hand, another survey showed that a majority of HCPs prefer e-mail communication. Furthermore, many HCPs (47%) now prefer and would like to continue with remote communication with less-frequent visits in the future as well; whereas, as per another report, a majority of HCPs (>85%) want digital engagement to complement in-person interaction as they believe that in-person meetings are an essential element to build, maintain, and promote trust. These views are conflicting, and differ both geographically and by specialty, but the message to medical affairs teams is clear – a flexible and blended approach is the way to go to establish a relevant and engaging line of communication with HCPs.

What should medical affairs teams focus on going forward?

When medical affairs teams work toward a hybrid approach, as mentioned above, they will first need to empathize and connect with HCPs to understand their challenges, interaction points, interests, preferences, and requirements, based on their work schedules, lifestyles, specialties, years in practice, demography, location and setting, target patient population, digital access and affinity, etc. The next step would be to provide practical support and engage HCPs by addressing their specific needs and major problems. Medical affairs teams should basically rethink how they are communicating to HCPs and personalize content (clinical content, study results, patient counseling material, samples, CME modules, etc.) for them to create better partnerships and relationships, ultimately aiding HCPs to make more informed and better decisions.

In the end, when it comes to HCP engagement, medical affairs teams do not face a binary choice of digital versus in-person interaction; they need to figure out how to maximize effective engagement by using the correct channel mix. Giving HCPs the space to shape their interactions with medical affairs teams is the way forward.

Find out how Cactus Life Sciences can help you adopt the latest innovative and engaging digital formats to personalize data dissemination and increase medical engagement to drive outcomes. Email us at

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About the author

Kwisha Shah
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Kwisha Shah is Marketing Content Manager, Thought Leadership, at Cactus Life Sciences.