The Evolving use of Social Media in Medical Affairs
Medical Affairs has always been positioned to find meaning in big data and now social media presents another place to look. How can Medical Affairs teams leverage social media to discover thought leaders? Are there insights hidden in online conversations? In this podcast sponsored by IQVIA, we speak with Tanmay Saraykar, Director of Social Media Insights at IQVIA, about these topics and more.
SPEAKER: Tanmay Saraykar
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Garth Sundem 0:00
Welcome to this episode of the Medical Affairs Professional Society Podcast Series: “Elevate”, gathering the voices of Medical Affairs thought leaders and stakeholders to explore current trends, define best practices, and empower the Medical Affairs function. I’m your host, Garth Sundem, Communications Director at MAPS, and today we’re speaking about the evolving role of social media in the practice of Medical Affairs with Tanmay Saraykar, Director of Social Media Intelligence at IQVIA with a mission to discover previously unseen insights, drive smarter decisions and unleash new opportunities. So Tanmay, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to your current role?
Tanmay Saraykar 0:43
Yes, thank you so much for the opportunity, Garth, yes. I have been leading this business at IQVIA for the past 10 years. And I was closely involved in establishing and managing and growing this business globally. Essentially, this was a new idea 10 years ago, the acceptance was low in terms of its scientific robustness or validity for the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry. But I think we have done a fair work in terms of bringing scientific credibility to insight from social media. And my team is involved in you know, creating innovative digital and social analytics offerings, which help pharma and consumer health clients gather patient-centric and physician-centric insights from large unstructured social data, which informed their commercial and clinical decisions. So, you know, over the past 10 years, IQVIA’s social media intelligence team has worked extensively with pharma clients and delivered insights in many areas such as market research, competitive intelligence, launch, Medical Affairs, real-world evidence, digital marketing, patient engagement and scientific communications. So, it’s a fascinating area, it’s still somewhat new as compared to some of the traditional research areas for consumer health. But nevertheless, this idea is catching up.
Garth Sundem 2:09
Yeah, so certainly, social media is a massive data source. Is that the primary function that you see social media for Medical Affairs, is as a massive source of data?
Tanmay Saraykar 2:22
It is, yes, it is a source of dynamic insights, and it is also an ever-changing source of insights. So things keep changing, right? If you have worked in this area, you will notice that a lot has changed in the past couple of years, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic through us in a digital world entirely. So, we have seen certain, you know, shifts that are not necessarily going back, for instance, increasing number of physicians have been adopting telemedicine and virtual ways of interacting with patients. So those are some of the shifts that are quite visible. When we look at the digital data and patients and physicians’ behavior on it.
Garth Sundem 3:10
Oh, that’s interesting. So, telemedicine, I wouldn’t necessarily have included that in the conceptualization of social media. But are we, are you looking at an expanded definition of the source of insights, not just in social media, but in sort of the digital landscape in general?
Tanmay Saraykar 3:33
Yes, right. So, you know, say due to the lockdowns and other restrictions because of COVID, many physicians have adopted virtual means of interacting, right? One of them is struggling with telemedicine video conferences, and this will likely stay. But beyond that, they have also taken to social media and online sources to connect with other physicians and consume information and education and collaborate on research. Now, this reflects on some of the new channel preferences they have, right? So, new networks such as TikTok have become very popular, so Instagram, and there’s a lot of physician participation on these networks. And they not only use these channels as means of communicating with other physicians but also their followers and disseminating information and spread awareness. For instance, we could see a lot of nurses and physicians involved in vaccination of COVID-19 spreading awareness about the benefits of vaccination and how it keeps safe and reduces hospitalizations, and things like that. So, this is significant since I mean, assuming these newly acquired habits will continue five years from now, TikTok and Instagram, these platforms will host a large chunk of medical audiences, especially the younger doctors. So, that’s quite relevant here.
Garth Sundem 4:53
That’s interesting. So, in the pandemic, it’s not just the doctors were delivering care through telemedicine. They were also engaging more in informational exchange, peer to peer or themselves to followers via social media. So, here’s a question. How then do you get insights from social media?
Tanmay Saraykar 5:16
That’s, that’s a complex. Right? So, you know, from a Medical Affairs standpoint, one of the challenges is that all the physician participation in social media is on the rise, there is still somewhat inconsistent or unstructured in a way, right? So for instance, on one, on the one hand, we have some highly influential positions who have a significant following. And they are active on social media, post regularly and participate in discussions. And on the other hand, there is a long tail of physicians who have, let’s say, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, which they largely use for consuming content and information, but only occasionally participate. But their opinions are valuable too, right? So, there are multiple challenges here, for instance, you know, there’s a good amount of work involved in identifying, ranking and scoring these influential and semi-active positions. And still considering their perspective, right? And we also need to track their public opinion online and social media activities over a period of time because we can’t solicit a response. So, that’s kind of the limitation in social listening. And actually, it can’t trigger participation, it can only be done through observation and data collection, then there’s a need to qualitatively analyze their posts and see them in the context of the business questions that we’re trying to address. So, you know, making sense of this large unstructured social media information, whether it is from physician or patient or their caregiver, and gathering actionable insights. That’s a complex process, and that needs both technology, and human intelligence.
Garth Sundem 7:00
But, I can see that it would be really challenging to gather insights. It seems like there are many physicians or other stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem that could be very vocal. But that doesn’t necessarily make their insights any more important than those that you could gather from less vocal social media participants.
Tanmay Saraykar 7:22
Garth Sundem 7:24
So tricky. So how do you see clients, you know, when you have clients at IQVIA, how do they use these approaches? What are the practical applications?
Tanmay Saraykar 7:36
Yes. So, social media intelligence, social listening, which is what it probably called, it can provide insights from both types of stakeholders. And both are equally important. And we have seen a lot of companies adopting new ways and transforming their business models to achieve patient centricity. So, we can learn about patients, and we can learn about physicians. So, if you take physicians, social listening and reveal insights, such as you know, who are the most influential positions, and which social platform are they active on? And what are they saying about specific brands and therapies? And which conferences are they interested in attending, are presenting and are they involved in any clinical research or clinical trials? And again, the information that exists there, and what’s their perspective on it? For instance, are they discussing any recently published clinical trial research or medical research? So, all these things, so it helps companies gather a holistic perspective on the position? What are they saying? What are they interested in? What are they pursuing as professional activities, so that helps engage them better in the long term?
Garth Sundem 8:53
Okay, so, okay, KOL identification, and I guess, sort of complex profiling of KOL to know who they are, what they’re talking about, what they care about. And then, what can you understand from a patient-centric perspective from social media?
Tanmay Saraykar 9:12
Yeah, right. So, patient conversations tend to be in much larger quantities as compared to personal conversations. So, it gets more complex there. But we can learn about how they manage their diseases, what concerns do they have on a certain brand of therapy? What are their unmet needs? What are the concerns they raised with the physicians and what happens during physician-patient interaction, some of the emotional issues, you know, access issues, and also if you take large enough data on specific therapy areas and branch from patient, we can glean patient-reported outcomes and critical insights and trends such as reasons for switching, or why are they dropping off of therapy. Is it because there are side effects, or is it because they can’t access the therapy? And what is the humanistic burden, so there’s a lot of detail available here that needs to be structured and gleaned in a fashion that assists decision making.
Garth Sundem 10:15
So, the traditional role of Medical Affairs has been listening to KOLs and healthcare providers. But you’re saying that through social media, Medical Affairs can gather insights directly from patients?
Tanmay Saraykar 10:31
Absolutely. And then, feed those insights to the physician to better prepare them in anticipating such questions from the patients. So, I think so it’s indirectly about the patient’s, right? So Medical Affairs, interacts with physicians, but the aim is to drive healthcare outcomes in patients. So, that’s where I think social media can give a patient’s perspective and better prepare physicians for a meaningful physician-patient interaction.
Garth Sundem 11:04
Well, and I imagine that if you know the questions that patients have, if you can discover that through social media, that then influence the activities of the medical information function within Medical Affairs?
Tanmay Saraykar 11:18
Absolutely, yes, absolutely. So, it helps them design, or let’s say launch, patient-centric support initiatives. So, it could be an awareness campaign, or a, you know, or financial assistance program, or even a Twitter chat, you know, in writing a question on a weekend and letting patients ask that physician questions directly in a live setting. That’s quite engaging. They value it, patients value this care, or this attitude of, you know, treatment being about them. And the social media is that gathering place. It’s easier to get them all together and engage them in a live session.
Garth Sundem 12:04
Okay, well, and so it sounds like the obvious use of social media, or one important use of social media for Medical Affairs is to generate these questions, or to understand what people are asking online. Can social media also be used to answer Medical Affairs questions?
Tanmay Saraykar 12:28
Typically, that is done by pharma companies, or consumer health companies, in a private setting, because there is always that risk of adverse event and side effects reporting. So lately, what we have seen is private Facebook groups have been popular among the pharma community. And as you may have noticed, even Facebook tends to be going in that direction. So, Facebook has been investing heavily in building capabilities around private groups. And that’s kind of the setting everybody feels comfortable in, the physicians, the pharma companies and the patients.
Garth Sundem 13:07
Okay, so Facebook, private groups, if you are going to recommend, I mean, I know IQVIA has the capability to draw insights across social media platforms. But if you were going to recommend to our Medical Affairs listeners, one platform that you think they should really engage in, and learn how to gather insights from and, you know, interact with, where would you point people?
Tanmay Saraykar 13:35
Yeah. So it could be, it could be a multi-channel approach, it could be a single channel approach. So, in terms of directly engaging with patients, private Facebook groups have been, let’s say, the low hanging fruit. But, in terms of public interaction, I would recommend Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook Live. So even, so, you know, it depends on where the audience is. And then we have to also understand the demographics of patients on such networks, in the context of what the initiative is being implemented. So, you know, it’s a subjective answer, but I would suggest, you know, these things, the most popular platforms will be, you know, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Garth Sundem 14:24
Okay. I don’t want to get into the weeds too much of how to engage on these platforms. It seems like we should keep the conversation to gathering insights from these platforms. But, at some point in the future, I’d love to chat with you about how Medical Affairs teams can use platforms especially, you know, visual platforms like Instagram, which seems like it’d be hard for a team to leverage. But, for today, let’s leave it at that. So, thank you very much, Tanmay, for joining us today. To learn more about how your organization can partner with IQVIA to explore the strategic opportunities of social media for Medical Affairs, visit IQVIA.com, that’s IQVIA.com. MAPS members, continue the conversation at the MAPS Connect platform and don’t forget to subscribe. We hope you enjoyed this episode of the Medical Affairs Professional Society podcast series: “Elevate”.