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Behavioural Science: An Untapped Opportunity for Medical Affairs

Just proving that an intervention has benefits is not always enough for it to be adopted into clinical practice. Yet in the past, pharma Medical Affairs teams have leaned heavily on empirical evidence to influence the uptake of new drugs and therapies. Here, Ben Routley of Bioscript/Mark Pringle of NeoHealthHub examines how the use of behavioural science techniques (BST) can improve the impact of client communications. BST has been a pivotal part of the guidance issued by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and of the strategy of the UK Government during the Covid-19 pandemic, and because of this, the practice has come into sharper focus. The more forward-thinking pharma organisations are now starting to embrace this form of customer engagement.


Behavioural Science: An Untapped Opportunity for Medical Affairs’

Across many industry sectors, behavioural science is an accepted part of marketing and sales. If customers are to be convinced of the benefits of one brand over another, or the latest version of a product over a previous generation you can’t just cite statistics about the item’s efficacy: you also need to engage people’s emotions to make them ‘buy into’ the new offering by using the rational and emotional sides of their brain.

‘Confirmation bias’ – where people read into something what they expect to see or hear – or ‘status quo bias’ (inertia) can play an important part in determining outcomes. Behavioural science can help to challenge these subliminal decision influencers.

Getting people to cement a decision and make a change requires lateral thinking – just as it has during the pandemic. In the UK, government bodies and public services have sought personal commitment from citizens to engage in considerate, risk-reducing behaviours. Simply citing the science, however powerful, proved to be only moderately effective in securing public buy-in to safe practices such as staying at home, maintaining social distance, wearing masks and getting vaccinated. Therefore officials had to supplement the hard science with more emotive and ‘human’ messaging that talked about protecting loved ones, and everyone ‘doing their bit’ to accelerate the end of the pandemic and the return to normality.

This high-profile application of ‘behavioural science’ has proved thought-provoking right across the healthcare ecosystem, and the discipline’s potential is now subject to fresh investigation by certain sections of the pharma industry – particularly in Medical Affairs.

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