Life science companies learned a lot about agility in the nearly two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Clinical teams sought, and obtained, necessary regulatory changes that allowed virtual clinical trials. MSLs shifted to virtual interaction with KOLs. Across the product lifecycle, pharmaceutical and medical device organizations found a way to keep work moving forward, all while dealing with unprecedented disruption and public pressure for a vaccine and other lifesaving treatments. How will these factors impact virtual engagement in 2022?
When life science companies shifted critical work and major events to virtual platforms in 2020, they learned valuable lessons. In exploring the potential of virtual work, they discovered the advantages of hybrid engagements – a combination of real-time virtual and asynchronous elements – including higher engagement rates and increased convenience for participants. These benefits highlighted the potential of including virtual elements in even the most traditionally face-to-face environments, such as medical congresses and other annual meetings.
As the industry looks ahead to 2022, there’s no question that face-to-face interaction will continue to ramp up. But with varying levels of risk tolerance, ongoing COVID-19 surges, and shifting work habits, it’s also clear that life science teams will need to build more flexibility into their engagement plans than ever before. Here are a few reasons why putting virtual elements at the center of your 2022 engagement strategy will pay off.
Built-in flexibility and risk reduction.
As vaccinations increase and COVID-19 variants emerge and recede, face-to-face events will return, many with the option to participate virtually. Medical congresses that went all-virtual in 2020 will resume their status as highly anticipated physical events, but many HCPs say they see their future congress attendance moving towards an equal balance of physical and virtual. The availability of virtual attendance reduces the likelihood of last-minute cancellations and no-shows and opens the event to KOLs who are too busy to commit to multi-day travel.
Life science teams can also take advantage of virtual engagement to augment in-person meetings. When a European medical affairs team needed more input on key study data from a medical congress, they expanded their pool of KOLs by quickly putting together a virtual meeting to parallel a face-to-face advisory board. The team got more insight into the study data and found the transcript generated in the asynchronous session superior to traditional means of recording impressions at an in-person meeting.
Prior to the pandemic, some Within3 clients were already holding asynchronous congress huddles to capture feedback onsite without adding more meetings to attendees’ packed schedules, adding a time-saving virtual element to a traditionally in-person event. Two years on, the advantages of asynchronous are even more clear, and life science organizations are leaning on it to maximize the value of in-person events.
Work is different now.
Some people will be happy to get back to pre-pandemic levels of business travel and in-person interaction, but for many, work habits are permanently altered. In a world where uncertainty persists and priorities have shifted, some key experts will choose to travel less or not at all. Accounting for this cultural change should be on the radar of life science teams, who should be prepared to offer KOLs meaningful virtual interaction.
Our own experience helping clients engage with KOLs both before and during the pandemic reflects that experts appreciate the ability to have more control over when and where they share their expertise. Post-session research shows that more time with patients and at home, the ability to learn from global peers, and the opportunity for everyone to be heard are among the top reasons many KOLs prefer asynchronous engagement.
More diversity, more inclusion, more actionable insights.
When anyone, anywhere can attend a meeting, life science teams can include KOLs from every part of the globe. But beyond simply including new voices, organizations build value when they seek global perspectives. This approach typically produces a richer discussion and higher response rates, which translates to deeper and more valuable insights.
In-person environments don’t always produce this result, because team leaders are limited in how many or what type of experts they can include in face-to-face meetings. Based on logistics and budgets, it’s often easier to include fewer viewpoints, even at the risk of missing out on valuable input. That’s a tough choice – one we don’t believe life science companies should have to make.
As pharmaceutical and medical device companies move beyond the pandemic, they will continue to leverage technology and lessons learned to successfully engage virtual and physical audiences and boost the value of interactions. We all celebrate the ability to safely see each other in person again, but virtual tools transformed the way these interactions are planned and held – and became a permanent part of life science engagement.