Tips for Medical Science Liaisons: It’s Not Only About How Much You Know

With a barrage of medical breakthroughs for complex conditions like cancer and AIDS, more complicated molecules and mechanisms of action, and less time for healthcare professionals to stay up to date, the role of Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) has never been more important. As the liaison between a pharmaceutical company and healthcare professionals for a specific therapy, MSLs are on the front lines. And while every pharmaceutical company has its own guidelines and expectations, a priority of every single medical liaison is to ensure that physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals receive important, credible, and timely information.

That being said, delivering every single piece of data to answer an HCP’s question is not the same as the HCP actually being able to process all of that information. Herein lies the struggle. Indeed, the dilemma facing today’s MSLs is: “How much is too much?” verses “How much is just enough?” Asked another way, “Does telling all you know have a point of diminishing return?”

To help answer this enduring, vexing question, we’ve developed 5 tips based on decades of experience, for improving Medical Science Liaisons’ communications with HCPs.

  1. Know your HCP. Not all HCPs are the same. Each may have a different level of experience or understanding of a specific therapy. Truly understanding how much they know about your therapy (and your competitor’s), what their beliefs are, and who they might respect, is critical in understanding them and preparing your communications.
  2. Check In. Before you begin delivering data, engage the HCP in a discussion to make sure you understand his or her questions, as well as the context in which it is being asked. Framing your answers in the format of a discussion allows you to determine how well the information you are communicating is being understood. To do this, ask simple questions, like: “Is this what you are looking for?” “Does it make sense?”, “Is it what you were expecting, and do you need more detail?” These questions will help you determine how much – or how much more – information is needed.
  3. Respect the Clock. Time is everything. One of the best relationship builders with an HCP is to confirm how much time they have at the beginning of your meeting and proceed accordingly. That means not only preparing your communications to fit the allotted schedule, but also leaving enough time for questions. If it looks like your time is running over, don’t wear out your welcome; instead check with them to see if it’s okay to continue or if they would rather have you come back at a more convenient time.
  4. Less is More: One of the fastest ways to turn off an HCP, (or any other listener for that matter), is to give such a long answer to a question that they are afraid to ask another. Keep in mind that this is not a contest for how much data you know and can deliver in a short period of time. In your attempt to be thorough, you may overload the physician with more information than he or she actually wants – or could possibly recall. The more information you deliver, the less control you have over what will be remembered. Studies on retention have consistently shown similar results. On average, 40% of information received is lost within an hour, 60% in in a day and 90% within a week. This is especially true if the information isn’t soon acted upon. When overloaded with information, the brain begins to lose or distort what has been heard. And since many HCPs pass on your information to their colleagues after having only heard it just once, over-sharing runs a high risk that some of it will be inaccurate.
  5. Structure Your Response: Consider the statistics above on retaining information when you prepare for your meeting. Also, remember this regarding how HCPs like to receive information: When queried about how they read scientific studies in medical journals, HCPs often say the first (and often only) thing they look at is the abstract or the conclusion. If they want to know more they will read the article. But first, they need to be brought into the story by understanding where it ends. In answering an HCP’s questions, follow the same process.   Begin with the conclusion. Ask yourself, “What is the most important take-a-way message for this HCP?” If you got it right, and delivered it credibly, you have hopefully peaked his or her interest and you can deliver the proof points and clinical data that prove your conclusion. If they want more, let them ask for it. Bottom Line: deliver your information in the way research shows they like to receive it.

Although there may be many reasons a physician would seek out a Medical Science Liaison, what remains constant is the need for information that is easily understood, to the point, well-supported and most importantly, useable and transferrable. In other words, ask yourself the question, “Is my information structured in such a way that it can be easily applied and accurately repeated to someone else?” If the answer is “Yes” then you’re not only an effective communicator, you’re a valuable on-going resource for the HCP.

In summary, learning how to prepare your information for busy healthcare professionals not only shows respect for their time, but also your mastery of the data. In the words of the ultimate scientist, Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Taking the time to consider what is of interest to a specific healthcare professional, and providing it to them in a simple-to-understand and compelling way, will not only improve your communications with them, it may very well help foster a better relationship.



Jerry Michaels brings his dual expertise in psychology and communications to help healthcare clients prepare for crucial scientific meetings, media interviews, and crisis public relations. Jerry excels at developing communication strategies, analyzing the strengths of presenters, and coaching them to maximize their performance. With a Master’s Degree in Psychology from New York University, Jerry has created and conducted programs on case-based learning, healthcare provider and patient communication, effective product launches, and crisis communications. Connect with Jerry on LinkedIn.