Expert insight:

Creating the right environment for your MSLs

By Maaike Addicks, MD, expert-trainer of the Business Acumen for MSLs course.

The fast-changing healthcare landscape offers tremendous opportunities for the Medical Affairs Departments and their MSL teams. Pharma companies will increasingly need them to develop and maintain relationships with key stakeholders in the market, to disseminate scientific information on diseases and products, to generate and collect data and to gain invaluable insights for internal decision-making.

As detailed in a previous article, for your MSL team to be successful, it is necessary to prioritize and set up training and development programmes that equip them with core competencies. However, there are equally important aspects in the work environment that need to be in place for your MSL team to reach its full potential.

Growth and career path

It is important to create a culture in your team of open communication, continuous improvement and feedback, allowing them to learn and grow in a safe environment, while continuously raising the bar.

This growth of the individual MSL will be even more pronounced and satisfying if there is a clear career path for the ambitious and talented MSL, so they know what goals to work towards and which gaps to fill to get there. It is recommended to map and record which competencies are essential for different (Medical Affairs) roles in your company. This will allow the MSL to make informed decisions about their development and will increase transparency with regards to opportunities and career potential.

Role within the company

Within the company, Medical Affairs needs to participate whenever strategic decisions are made, so that the company’s huge investment in MSL teams can yield the highest return. This should not only be the case in the Board Room or the Management Team, but also in the Brand or Product Teams. In fact, some decisions or strategies will be solely based on the insights and expertise of the Medical Department.

Roles and responsibilities of the MSL, but also of their colleagues in the field, need to be clear and transparent so as to minimize misunderstanding and competitive behaviour in the teams. From a compliance point of view, it should be clear which type of interaction is appropriate for whom, and the responsibility for compliant behaviour should be placed on each individual in the company, making it part of the company culture.

Systems and processes

To keep them agile, compliant and impactful, MSLs need processes and systems to help them leverage their actions. A smooth, transparent and fast compliance system will help them greatly in achieving their goals. In many companies, approval of studies and projects can sometimes be time-consuming and subject to complex approval procedures. In this digital era, where external stakeholders such as investigators or HCP partners expect a more immediate response, this can negatively influence the relationship. In addition, when an opportunity arises to collect or generate Real World Evidence, it is imperative that the reaction be swift and affirmative.

Pharma companies also need to ensure appropriate systems are in place for capturing and sharing insights, KOL plans and other compliance-sensitive information. Often, the systems that MSLs use are systems that have been designed with a sales force in mind. Instead of “making do” with these systems, let’s think about what systems we can use to optimize and capitalize on the information that MSLs can gain from interacting with their stakeholders.

KPIs and metrics

Clear and custom-made KPIs should be in place to measure and demonstrate the MSL’s added value. This will provide a clear direction to their efforts and excellence, which in turn can be rewarded in a transparent manner.

Traditionally, quantitative measures have been used, such as call rates and time in field. These quantitative measures have the benefit of being transparent, easy to compare or accumulate, and they give the perception of being an objective KPI. However, quantitative measures such as call rate will not provide reliable data on the performance of the MSL, as their contributions are often long term and of a different nature.

It is possible to use some quantitative measures to assess the efficiency of the MSL, such as for instance the percentage of KOLs participating in projects, or the number of participants in a symposium, but they need to be picked carefully and with the life cycle of the product in mind.

In general, as the greatest benefits of the MSL are not rooted in quantity, but in quality, traditional quantitative measures do not do justice to what makes an MSL great. The quality of the relationship with the KOL, the value of the insight that the MSL gains for the company, the level of scientific merit of the presentation they gave at the symposium, are all outcomes that will ultimately give you most information on the added value of the MSL. These are the metrics that we should be using to measure, coach and stimulate our teams.


In conclusion, our MSLs are some of our most valuable resources, and we can make them even more valuable if we set them up for success by prioritizing their development and facilitating their ways of working. Only then we will see them soar and feel their impact on the company’s success.

Last update: September 2020


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