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Hot air balloons with one above all others.
Alyssa Hulahan-Castellano
Nov 20, 2023

A Changing Hierarchy Why Medical Affairs is reaching for the top

The pharmaceutical industry is evolving, and as the traditional commercial model shifts, a new leader has emerged. Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) allow medical affairs teams to adopt smart solutions and provide real-time insights from an ever-growing body of evidence. This improved efficiency in generating and communicating data enables faster outreach to key stakeholders with more accessible information. As a result, medical affairs is poised to guide organizations as a vital source of intelligence for commercial, regulatory and R&D teams.

More Than Information Providers
Medical affairs teams have traditionally focused on generating evidence from disparate data sources, disseminating insights into providers and patients, and building relationships with healthcare providers (HCPs), payers, and key opinion leaders. Along with commercial and R&D units, medical affairs helps drive organizational efficiency and performance. However, slow, manual, fragmented processes for gathering and sharing insights have hindered advancing patient outcomes due to delayed practical guidance on products for stakeholders.

With most technology investment focused on R&D, medical affairs lacked the software systems to keep pace until recently. But AI-enabled data analysis and research augmentation now allow medical affairs to catch up - quickly.

Overcoming Information Overload
As the volume of data escalates across multiple channels, analysis becomes challenging. Without AI and machine learning unifying and comparing information from disparate sources, critical insights risk being missed or overlooked. However, expert human verification remains essential for producing high-quality outcomes superior to either AI or humans alone. Armed with these timely insights, medical affairs can better demonstrate the value of their therapies to diverse stakeholders from the patient to the provider.

Engaging Stakeholders
How HCPs interact with pharma has changed. The shift to a virtual presence accelerated by COVID-19 has compelled medical affairs to embrace digital communication channels and online learning platforms. 

With HCPs seeking to expand knowledge amidst increasingly complex treatments, demand for clear, robust data to inform decisions has heightened. As tailored, individualized information and consistent messaging across touchpoints grow more important, an omnichannel approach has emerged.

Evolving Medical Affairs Leaders
As medical affairs takes on a more strategic role, leaders must evolve as well. Key capabilities include demonstrating business acumen, leading with influence, staying up to date on key technological advances, and championing continuous learning. Leaders should act as catalysts for change to shape the future (1)

Cultivating partnerships, collaborating across functions, and coordinating evidence generation are crucial to align insights with organizational strategy. Data analytics expertise allows leaders to derive value from the increasing volume of real-world evidence.

Cultivating partnerships, collaborating across functions, and coordinating evidence generation are crucial to align insights with organizational strategy. Data analytics expertise allows leaders to derive value from the increasing volume of real-world evidence.


Optimizing the Omnichannel Approach
Delivering a seamless omnichannel experience requires optimizing content, data, and technology. Content should be scientifically rigorous yet concise, visually engaging, and accessible(2).

Collating data and insights across channels provides a unified view of stakeholders to inform meaningful interactions. Integration of CRM systems, marketing automation, and other tools ensures consistency(2). The aim is not to simply increase the frequency of interaction, but the quality of each engagement.

Emerging technologies like AI and augmented reality offer new ways to analyze data and create immersive experiences. Adoption should focus on enhancing human connections vs. replacing them(2).

Forging True Strategic Partnerships
To evolve into an indispensable strategic partner, medical affairs must align evidence generation with organizational goals, facilitate decision-making and demonstrate return on investment(3). It is essential that they are able to demonstrate how their engagement with key stakeholders impact the adoption of their products and improved patient outcomes.

Quantifying value via metrics like time savings and access improvements makes the function’s contributions tangible. Cross-functional coordination on insights and strategic planning is key(3). Eventually, the implementation of a software platform will enable them to measure not just time and cost savings but also how increased data visibility and usability enables them to drive data-driven adoption of their products.

By taking the lead in navigating today’s complex healthcare environment, medical affairs can fulfill its mission to improve patient outcomes through education, research, and enhanced stakeholder engagement.

With investment in AI and other advances, medical affairs has transformed. No longer just support for commercial teams, medical affairs now plays a strategic leadership role in the industry.


1) Bedenkov A, et al. Developing Medical Affairs leaders who create the future. Pharmaceutical Medicine. 2020;34:301–307. 2) PMLive. Creating the right foundations for omnichannel success. August 2023. Available at: Creating the right foundations for omnichannel success - PMLiVE (Accessed October 2023). 3) Deloitte US. Medical Affairs: Evolving to be true strategic partners. May 2023. Available at: Medical Affairs: Evolving to be True Strategic Partners | Deloitte US (Accessed October 2023).



Alyssa Hulahan-Castellano