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Medical affairs – a strategic function for scientific engagement

The function of medical affairs has evolved over the years, and continues to do so at quite a pace. The traditional dynamic between medical affairs and commercial teams has been one of restriction, with regulations on ‘promotional’ activities. However, in more recent times there has been a shift towards an increasingly shared responsibility between commercial and medical affairs teams based on mutual values of patient centricity, value propositions and the use of data.

Medical affairs has always been a vital conduit of information both inwards and outwards. Partnerships between medical affairs and external stakeholders are invaluable and provide insights that can steer future medical strategy. The increasing focus of these external stakeholders on proactive communication has driven medical affairs teams to be more forward-looking and ensure a greater understanding of the needs and preferences of their internal and external audiences.

As a result of these shifting dynamics, and in a world with better informed audiences than ever before, the scope of deliverables, availability of new technology and the relative size of medical budgets has changed. Correspondingly, strategic input from medical affairs is in demand now more than ever.

As has been said many times, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. There is increasing responsibility for medical affairs to be proactive, address data gaps, be patient-focused, creative, understand channel choice and deliver behaviour change in addition to its more traditional role in medical and scientific information. This means new skills and new internal partnerships are required.

Most importantly, medical affairs needs to assert itself as a strategic co-leader of any pharmaceutical product. There are too many examples of suboptimal collaboration between commercial and medical departments, often blamed on compliance and the need for ‘firewalls’. While an element of this argument holds true, with the right mindset in place and an early start on strategic alignment across internal functions, many of these barriers can be overcome. The value of this collaborative approach for health systems, and ultimately patients, is huge.

By David Youds

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