November 17, 2020

Know What You’re Missing: More Diverse Insights with Virtual Engagement

Hierarchy influence, cultural differences, and big personalities can affect insight-gathering. Here’s how to overcome those roadblocks.

Securing high levels of inclusion, engagement, and insights in medical advisory board activities is fraught with challenges. One of the most difficult to overcome – often tied to longstanding and ingrained norms related to corporate or regional culture – is apprehension from participants who are junior to other advisors or more reserved in traditional meeting settings.

Those with experience facilitating medical advisory boards would agree there are always loud voices that tend to dominate in-person meetings. Even with a strong facilitator, those voices can derail or monopolize a meeting where hours are measured in tens of thousands of dollars and the future of a clinical study, education program, or professional organization may be at stake. In these environments, key opinion leaders take center stage, and rising stars or early-career professionals may feel pressure to fall in line or simply remain on the sidelines.

How much value is lost when a small number of voices who happen to be the loudest dominate the discussion? How can companies capture all of the insight that might be available to them, including new or divergent ideas and opinions that could impact treatment approaches or patient outcomes?

“The odds of gaining meaningful or actionable insights from an in-person advisory board meeting can be significantly reduced as a result of language and cultural barriers,” said Natalie DiMambro, vice president of learning and development at Within3. “In some settings, speaking up and over others is natural. In cultures with stringent, hierarchical norms with regard to communication, voices will not be heard unless they are specifically asked to speak or until others have exhausted their input.”

Creating the right virtual environment for all voices

Removing such barriers only stands to benefit life science teams. For one Within3 customer trying to obtain insights on a proposed trial design, the primary concern was hierarchy influence. The team needed perspective from both doctors and nurses but were concerned that nurses might be influenced by physicians’ opinions, or even refrain from contributing. Input from the nurses – as well as their buy-in on the proposed trial protocol – was critical to the phase IV study’s success.

The customer addressed this challenge by holding an online advisory board session with doctors and nurses in separate virtual rooms. The advisors were blinded and answered questions privately to provide the freedom to give thorough feedback. The measures yielded results: the customer learned that they needed to shorten the clinical trial protocol and expand certain aspects of the patient profile.

It can be difficult for meeting participants to overcome traditional ideas about who gets to speak and when, but these habits are usually at odds with most clinicians’ motivations. “The vast majority of medical advisory board members and the industry entities to which they contribute want to do what’s best: to drive better patient outcomes,” said DiMambro. “Often they just lack the tools and training to do it effectively. Virtual engagement is proving its potential to keep teams connected and productive in their own comfort zone, in their own ways, in their own place and time.”

Over-time engagements provide a safe, reflective environment that reduces the opportunity for loud voices to dominate and minimizes the potential for post-event action items to get disregarded or lost. “Our pharmaceutical and medical device customers continue to describe substantial gains in advisory board insight acquisition, clinical trial protocol improvements, reduced time to regulatory responses, and lower overall associated costs,” said DiMambro. “A larger data set or sample size inclusive of gender, race, experience, and function generates a more accurate picture of what’s happening with, or needed for, your biopharma or medtech project.”

Although COVID-19 forced the issue on virtual engagement, many organizations will continue to rely on it to gather more diverse insights, strengthen relationships with stakeholders, and provide a place for everyone to contribute. “Do not underestimate the value of virtual relationships and tools,” said DiMambro. “Some of the most ardent early opponents to virtual engagement tools, clinicians in particular, become the most ardent supporters with ample encouragement, education, and experience...It can be a richer, deeper experience that generates orders-of-magnitude gains in volume and quality of insights.”

To understand how the Within3 virtual engagement platform can help your team get better insights for faster decision-making, request a needs assessment and demo.