The Engagement Use Cases for AI

A wide array of AI tools are here now or coming that will help pharma sharpen its engagement approach across medical affairs and commercial.

Pharma’s early attempts to apply AI tools to engagement activity, for example using AI to better target customers or to suggest next-best actions, have not always met expectations.

But these are early days. Techniques and approaches are being refined and the potential applications for AI are expanding rapidly. New tools are already being deployed and others are in rapid development.

Field force effectiveness is one highly promising area of focus for AI, which can help train field teams in numbers to engage more deeply with HCPs by making them better listeners and communicators.

AI-enhanced training tools now offer the ability to track and assess field force interactions in detail, surfacing ways in which reps can improve communication skills. AI can measure what the most effective salespeople are doing and apply the insights gathered to level up less effective field force colleagues.

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From art to science

This offers a powerful means of improving performance, more so than any human trainers. AI promises to turn what has been an art – working out what techniques work best in a face-to-face interaction - into a repeatable science. Rather than having commercial managers listen in on calls the AI can do it and spot areas for improvement.

It does this by ingesting video content and uncovering visual auditory and linguistic patterns to understand how a rep manages an interaction, how effective their language, voice tone, eye contact and body language are in an interaction, for example.

As Professor Ethan Bernstein, Associate Professor in the Organizational Behavior Unit, Harvard Business School has noted, AI is “more patient, it will listen to you more frequently. It will be less judgmental. It will be more data focused.”

The beauty of using AI in communication training in this way is that it democratises and scales what have been resource-intensive processes. Skilled human trainers are expensive and so historically it was often only the top executives who received training. Now with a more automated approach, every member of the field team can benefit.

In a large organisation in which thousands or tens of thousands of such conversations are happening daily, the potential to drive rapid improvement is obvious.

AI’s role in medical affairs

A range of other engagement applications, both internal and external for AI are already here or under development with particular value for Medical Affairs.

A simple but highly effective example of how AI can have an impact is the successful deployment by HCG of an AI tool to develop content for people showing up at a global congress, customized for their language. “We use this AI tool to generate video that is customized for each person in their language, at a fraction of a cost and in a fraction of the time that we used to spend to do anything like that it was almost prohibitive to do anything like that,” says Gregory Imber, Chief Engagement Officer, Healthcare Consultancy Group (HCG).

AI also has clear potential to help medical affairs gather data, analyse it and publish from it in ways that are simply not possible with humans alone, creating deeper insights otherwise not available. “Think about the tons of scientific content and data that you need to reach the right people. The scale of that is too much for any human being to handle. You can’t do it without AI,” says Imber. “We can all wrap our heads around the fact that we're starting to generate engaging content, at scale, to meet needs in ways that would have been prohibitive before.”

Using AI to automate the creation of a paper or other documents and data visualizations from clinical trial data is a tantalizing prospect and could save medical communications teams a lot of time and effort, predicts Gayle Kenney, Global Scientific Communication Engagement & Medical Information Excellence Head at Novartis. “It's still not great and it's going to take a lot of work but as the AI improves and as it learns, that's going to become more seamless.”

Personalized engagement

In the omnichannel era, the application of AI is going to be essential in helping medcomms manage the complexity of the content it creates and to track and measure complex HCP behavior in order to identify how best to add value for them.

HCG is already using AI tools to identify KOLs and a range of other applications are likely to emerge. It’s likely that AI could be used to help personalize engagement activity or optimize content for certain audiences. AI can help scrape insights from field force/HCP interactions and identify common customer needs and pain points. These can then be addressed leading to deeper customer relationships and even more effective engagement.

“In the Medical Affairs space, specifically, I think trying to get that level of personalization and measurement will be very difficult, if not impractical from a cost standpoint, without the applications of different AI technologies,” says Matt D'Auria, HCG’s Chief Executive Officer.

AI also has potential utility to help enhance internal collaboration that will in turn drive more effective engagement.

Sarah Strattman, Head of Global Medical Communications at Takeda points to the need for better software to help medcomms leaders align and collaborate. Takeda is developing its own proprietary software for its scientific platform and is looking at developing a more digital integrated communications platform as well.

Takeda is also exploring how tools such as ChatGPT can help automate the creation of some internal communications, adds Strattman. “Each communication channel needs its own approved set of documents, so something like ChatGPT can be likely very effective to help us do those types of communications faster.”

Applying AI in practice

How these tools are used matters. In the context of field force training, they should play to the strengths of field force members. Care must be taken to ensure interactions remain authentic and that field force team members still feel they have freedom to be themselves and have agency in how they interact with HCPs.

Communicating the value of AI to pharma’s engagement workforce, helping them attain the skills and knowledge needed to harness AI tools and offering reassurance that it will enhance roles rather than threaten them would be a profitable focus for medcomms leaders.

“Upskilling teams to understand and apply AI to their work, to enhance their productivity, is something I'm enormously excited about,” says D’Auria. “I don't see AI being something that is a threat. I see it is as a utility to solving substantial resource gaps that exist.”

There’s little indication that the pace of change will slow and so the requirement for medcomms to continue to keep pace is not going to go away, adds D’Auria. “I don't see things slowing down, I see them continuing to accelerate and so I think keeping up with the pace of transformation will still be important three years from now.  I think we're going to be amazed by the continued acceleration of change in our space.”

Experts that contributed:

  • Lori Reilly, Chief Operating Officer, Phrma
  • Levi Garraway, EVP, Head of Global Product Development & Chief Medical Officer, Roche
  • Maya Martinez-Davis, President US, GSK
  • Gabriele Ricci, Chief Data & Technology Officer, Takeda
  • Sandra Silvestri, EVP, Chief Medical Officer & Head of Global Medical Affairs, Patient Safety & Affairs, Ipsen
  • Adam Lenkowsky, EVP & Chief Commercialization Officer, BMS
  • Amy Mahery, Chief Commercial Officer, Roivant Sciences
  • Moreno Perugini, President, Pharmaceutical Therapies, Nestle Health Science