Friday, September 4, 2015

Topic 42 – The Office-centric MSL

One of my readers asked me an interesting question:

“Are there examples of successful MSL roles that are primarily office-based (minimal travel)?”

Of course I could immediately think of some one-off type of examples like MSLs that focus on supporting other internal teams, like MSLs focused on training, or MSLs focused on providing a clinical development function technical leadership support. But, the simple answer is that I don’t know of any MSL groups that are primarily office-based. If you have experience with this, please leave a comment because my reader would really appreciate it.
Having failed to find a practical example, I nevertheless asked myself if I could imagine such a group existing in the future as a thought experiment. If we take as a given that the role of the MSL is to:

1. Establish relationships with stakeholders (usually thought leaders / key opinion leaders) in order to:
a. Provide the stakeholders with information and education on the disease state
b. Answer unprompted off-label questions about products / pipeline
c. Gather insights from stakeholders to share with the organization
2. Represent their organization in scientific settings like conferences
3. Facilitate efforts to work effectively with the research community
4. Support other scientific needs of the organization externally, like payers

I realize your mileage may vary on this definition, but if we accept it, than is there a future where most of that can be done from a desk?

I think it comes down to how acceptable the use of remote communications like FaceTime or Skype becomes. Today’s reality is that this is rarely done but I believe that this will grow much more common as this type of communication begins to be embedded in our daily interactions. I can imagine a future in 10 years or less where stakeholders express a preference for this type of communication – it is clearly more efficient for a stakeholder to sit at her or his desk and quickly interact with a number of different people than have to do the physical meet and greet with its inevitable open/closing loss of time. However, I think that this change will happen so gradually that we will come to realize that happened only by looking back on the differences.

And even in such a situation, there will still have to be travel for initial introductions which are much more impactful face to face and to conferences/meetings that have not gone virtual.

I just think the MSL job is too fundamentally about human contact to ever be exclusively office-based.

What do you think? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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