Posted: 18 May 2023 5 min. read

Medical Affairs: Evolving to be true strategic partners

By Kurt Conger, managing director, and Ming Shen, managing director, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Medical Affairs is the division within a pharmaceutical, biotechnology, or medtech company that generates and disseminates evidence to health care providers (HCPs) and payers and manages relationships with key opinion leaders and other stakeholders. Over the past few years, the Medical Affairs landscape appears to have been undergoing an evolution, and their role of the Medical Affairs team seems to be growing in strategic organizational importance.

To understand how companies are adapting to this changing landscape, we initiated a benchmark study among Medical Affairs leaders across the industry. We surveyed and interviewed executives from 20 pharmaceutical companies to determine how their Medical Affairs teams were evolving. We recently presented our findings during a panel discussion at the Medical Affairs Professional Society (MAPS) Global Annual Meeting in Nashville.1

The science around new medical treatments has become increasingly complex over the past few years. As a result, the need for more robust scientific and clinical information—to inform the use of products by HCPs—seems to be more important than ever. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations to think differently about customer engagement. “The change in preferences among HCPs was really accelerated by the pandemic and the ways we communicate had to pivot very quickly,” said Deborah Long, senior vice president of Medical Affairs at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and one of our MAPS presentation panelists. “This is a reflection of changes in the way HCPs practice now.”

Key trends that could help transform Medical Affairs into a strategic partner

We identified a few key trends that were highlighted in our benchmark study—as well as during our panel discussion at the MAPS conference—that could help to increase the strategic importance of Medical Affairs:

  • Demand for data: One theme prevalent in our research, as well as throughout the conference, was the increasing demand for data. Many health care stakeholders are looking for a more thorough analysis of clinical-trial results, real-world data, and additional patient endpoints and outcomes to help them understand the value of therapeutics throughout their lifecycle. In response, many Medical Affairs teams are working to enhance their data analytics capabilities and improve their ability to generate and disseminate scientific evidence. Many of our survey respondents said they want Medical Affairs to be more strategic and drive discussions around value. Shontelle Dodson, executive vice president of Medical Affairs at Astellas, said her team is increasingly focused on complex evidence generation across the lifecycle of a product. “That is an area of focus for us,” she said, adding that it is also important to prioritize which questions Medical Affairs teams decide to address. “We won't be able to answer every evidence question from stakeholders around the globe,” she explained.

Deborah said that publications are the lifeblood of Medical Affairs. One conference attendee agreed and said that “pubs are hubs.” But strategies for getting the right information in front of the right people appear to be changing. In addition to publishing data in traditional journals, some companies are publishing data through social media, in new types of posters, or brief through videos. Eric Toron, executive director and medical operations lead of Global Medical & Scientific Affairs at Merck & Co., Inc., noted that there are many “new and exciting technologies” to enable the sharing of evidence summarized in publications and other sources. “We don’t know what’s going to work ultimately, but we are experimenting in multiple areas using the scientific method, which has yielded some interesting results that we hope to read-out soon,” he said.

Medical Affairs teams can play an important role in collecting and analyzing HCP insights to identify unmet medical needs, determine customer preferences and methods to engage with them. By leveraging advanced analytics and AI capabilities, HCP interaction insights and external sources can be used to determine the messages to deliver, the channels to use, and the formats in which to offer them.

  • Omnichannel: The pandemic had a profound impact on the role of Medical Affairs in many organizations. Prior to the pandemic, most interactions with HCPs were conducted in person. Face-to-face meetings may have been seen as the most effective way to engage with key opinion leaders, to discuss clinical data, and to build relationships with stakeholders. During the first year of the pandemic, some organizations scaled back their sales teams because they were unable to meet with clients in person (see The pandemic didn’t hinder drug launches, but it has altered sales tactics). The pandemic pushed many pharmaceutical companies to adopt virtual meetings and other forms of digital communication.

Today, many Medical Affairs leaders report that only about half of their interactions are conducted in-person. We expect that percentage may have plateaued. Many clinicians now prefer a phone call, text, or information disseminated through a web portal, over a face-to-face interaction. To facilitate omnichannel engagement, our study found that 65% of respondents have implemented digital capabilities. Our panelists stressed the importance of orchestrating interactions across channels to create a seamless and consistent customer experience.

To effectively implement omnichannel engagement, organizations are dependent upon effective use of data analytics capabilities, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), managing modular content, and the use of personalization engines. Although the degree and order of investment in digital capabilities may differ by company, Medical Affairs leaders generally see omnichannel as critical to achieving their strategic objectives.

  • Centralization and automation of digital capabilities: Our study revealed that numerous organizations are now centralizing and automating essential Medical Affairs operations, including management of medical inquiries, communications, and content generation. Previously, medical-inquiry capabilities were often duplicated in local markets. About 80% of our survey respondents said their medical inquiries are managed by a globally harmonized management system, and another 25% are moving toward a centralized model. This approach minimizes redundant activities and leverages automation and AI to improve efficiency. Content Management is another area that is being centralized and automated. Eric noted that his company has executed a global content-management strategy to make sure content it creates is fit for purpose for the vast majority of countries. Global content is only augmented locally to meet a specific regulation or unique business process within a country.

Medical Affairs teams often collect unique insights into the needs of HCPs, patients, caregivers, and payers that can help inform brand strategies and the product lifecycle. Some of the leaders we surveyed expect Medical Affairs will continue to evolve into an even more important strategic partner—both for external stakeholders and for internal teams within the organization. Medical Affairs leaders we surveyed agree with this sentiment, and most of them expect their strategic roles to expand over the coming years.

Editor’s note: For information about Deloitte’s Medical Affairs benchmark study, contact Kurt Conger at

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The executives’ participation in this article are solely for educational purposes based on their knowledge of the subject and the views expressed by them are solely their own. This article should not be deemed or construed to be for the purpose of soliciting business for any of the companies mentioned, nor does Deloitte advocate or endorse the services or products provided by these companies.

This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor.

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1 Medical Affairs Professional Society (MAPS)

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