Medical affairs: Transforming science to value in the era of big data

Written by Justin Soon, WPP Health Practice
How apps are helping patients manage medical conditions_article image

For many years, medical affairs has often been viewed primarily as a support function, struggling to articulate a compliant ‘return on investment’ outcome and realise its potential value in strategic leadership of the business.

However, in the face of current regulatory, economic and technology trends, McKinsey’s “Vision for Medical Affairs in 2025” sees the evolution of medical affairs as the third strategic pillar of the organisation, alongside R&D and Commercial.

Trends towards tougher regulatory controls, greater expectations for transparency and increased requirements for real-world (and health-economic) evidence have brought additional pressures to pharmaceutical organisations, fuelling the growth of medical affairs.

While rapid advances have been made in medical technologies and innovations, improvements in the actual delivery of healthcare tend to happen much more slowly.

Patients themselves are now at the centre of driving change, including doing their own research into their conditions and looking to track their own data.

Recent innovations like ‘wearable tech’, smartphones and health apps are enabling patients to take greater control of their own health, their own health data and as such, make greater demands on healthcare systems.

The whole healthcare ecosystem is going through a period of change, and even healthcare professionals themselves must adapt to take on more diverse roles.

In a world of ubiquitous information, data is becoming more intrinsically key to business success. However, whilst gathering data is relatively easy, interpreting and turning data into actionable insights has proven more difficult.

In the healthcare environment, a company’s ability to interpret data collected through interactions with internal and external stakeholders is central to understanding market and patient needs.

“The goal is to turn data in to information, and information into insight” 

– Carly Fiorina, former CEO, Hewlett Packard

In such a dynamic environment, one of the unique contributions of medical affairs is its ability to understand and interpret data from the field and turn it into insights.

The ability to deliver actionable insights and quantify the impact of medical activities is central to unlocking the strategic potential of medical affairs, and importantly, a compliant return of investment metric.

The concept of transforming of Science to Value requires organisations to rethink medical affairs performance in terms of impact on patient and healthcare system outcomes within 4 key domains:

1. Governance
2. Access & Reimbursement
3. Patient Representation
4. Scientific Engagement


In this current age of information, how companies collect and process data is a topic of public interest. As the use of digital technologies increases, companies must adapt to manage the associated increases in volume and risks.

A robust governance framework is essential in building a culture of integrity and transparency, and to ensure consistency and quality across the organisation.

The adoption of digital tools and process automation will enable medical affairs to shape corporate risk tolerance and enhance company reputation, through the generation of data-driven insights.

Access and Reimbursement

With ageing populations and increasing costs putting tremendous pressure on healthcare systems, clinicians and payers are relying more heavily on both clinical and economic data when making decisions.

Therefore, medical affairs must work hand in hand with market access colleagues to articulate clinical and economic value in order to accelerate access to treatments and services for the benefit of patients.

Conversely, medically led stakeholder engagement will drive insight generation to inform clinical trial design and identify appropriate value endpoints. Performance indicators need to be redefined to describe impact based on improvements in patient access and patient outcomes.

Patient Representation

As patients become more sophisticated in their use of technology to seek information, organisations need to engage patients more directly.

The use of digital tools is a way to meet them where they are already getting their information and to support them in making their own decisions about their care.

Medical affairs is ideally placed to take ownership of patient engagement and to represent the patient voice internally, allowing for more coherent, integrated and patient-centric strategies.

Scientific Engagement

With the evolving role of health professionals, organisations must consider the individual needs and preferences of stakeholders (including behavioural styles) and support their ability to make informed decisions in partnership with their patients.

By co-ordinating engagement with the scientific community, medical affairs can provide consistent interactions with stakeholders that drive strategy and innovation throughout the entire product lifecycle.

The utilisation of analytical tools to evaluate medical affairs performance should be aimed at understanding and quantifying the impact of medical activities and medical field teams on both patient outcomes and healthcare system outcomes, to enable effective prioritisation and deployment of resources.


In conclusion, as medical affairs steps up to take on a more strategic leadership role, being able to effectively articulate the transformation of science to value, by redefining performance metrics in terms of patient and healthcare system outcomes, will be ever more critical for success. With the rapid advances in technology and the changing healthcare landscape, organisations will have to integrate a new type of talent into medical affairs, with digital and analytics expertise, to ensure survival in a data-driven era of evidence-based decision making.

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