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How Do I Optimise The Value Of Medical Communications And Who Can Help Me Do It?

In this email series, what we haven’t really considered yet are the details of implementing medical communications. We’ve covered why it needs to be a key part of your communications strategy, but now you’re probably wondering exactly how to get started with it. First port of call is usually a check to see if there is capacity (and willingness) in the medical affairs team for the work to be done internally. 

Running an education program in-house is a tempting option. It is potentially the most cost-effective way to do it. It is an especially attractive option if securing funding for an externally run medical education program is problematic. One big benefit of engaging people who already work for you is that they already work for you; it’s just a matter of finding those with the time to do the job.

In theory, you should be able to work closely with an in-house team. It can be easier to touch base on progress and ensure their activity is well synchronised with other activities. 

As long as everyone’s well briefed, you can achieve very close integration this way. That’s a significant advantage. There is also the issue of approval. If the medical affairs team is pulling the program together then it would be safe to assume things will go smoothly with the approval process.

However, there are also potential downsides. The obvious one is time and focus. The medical affairs team is generally covering a lot of ground and are often having to deal with more immediate priorities. This can lead to work being held over and then rushed to meet a deadline. 

This is less likely to happen if, as is the case with some companies, there is a dedicated team responsible for producing and delivering medical education. Having discussed programs with these in-house teams, the one thing they have openly confided is that they themselves worry about being a little myopic with their programs because they tend to do the same sort of activities with the same formats over and over. 

If you need a small education program in a hurry, and you have in-house people who already have some experience, this can be a workable solution. But, if you’re planning a more strategic campaign that builds over time, then the internal option may be less attractive.  

If keeping the work in-house is not a practical option, then the next step involves discussions with an agency or consultant. The obvious choice is to work with an incumbent, reach out to someone you’ve worked with previously or ask colleagues for recommendations. 

The appeal of these three options is pretty obvious. Most major companies already have at least one agency, if not a roster of agencies, they work with regularly so it makes sense to get them to handle your medical education.

Advertising agencies will usually have the numbers to get the job done; however, they may not necessarily have experienced medical communications consultants on staff and this can create issues down the track when it comes to: accredited content, the Medicines Code of Conduct as it applies to medical education, and, more importantly, the way in which the content is pulled together. 

On the other hand, some ad agencies have a dedicated medical communications division. There is some merit in locating your advertising and medical communications in the same place, so long as each discipline has its own appropriately skilled consultants. It is also crucial that the advertising team and the medical communications team appreciate and respect each other’s role in the delivery of the communications strategy. The two should never be in competition.

Then, of course, there are a number of dedicated medical communication consultants that know and understand the area and can provide the necessary expertise. There are also benefits in regard to the wide spectrum of projects and activities they have been exposed to. There is little opportunity to become myopic.

In more recent years I have seen more and more re-structures, which often result in staff moving on, and this in turn leads to a loss of corporate knowledge. These re-structures have also opened the door to short-term contract staff to cover critical periods. 

These contractors are an excellent resource, especially in times of economic constraint or headcount freezes; nevertheless, they are generally starting afresh. It’s during these periods that an incumbent consultant or agency can come into its own.