Within the last week, I’ve seen two interesting job titles;

 

~ Special Pachyderm* Advisor to the Queen of Thailand (*elephants to you and me) on a website about elephants that paint

~ cattle chiropodist on the side of a pick-up truck.

 

Who would have thought that cows have pedicures?

 

So how exotic is your job title?

 

A debate that has raged for years is what is the difference between Medical Information and Medical Affairs? Within the same company, people who have the same job title can have quite different responsibilities in different countries. As someone remarked, should we have a company standard on what the two roles involve?

 

 

The same question came up when Janet Davies and I put together a survey to benchmark Medical Information departments across Europe. How would we best select the people we were trying to reach? And what job titles do they use? We decided to describe the function as Medical Information (MI). It was defined as a role where people provide product information on demand from customers, including doctors, pharmacists, nurses, patients (or their carers) and company personnel (like sales reps or marketing).

 

The survey results have been fascinating and frustrating to analyse for a Drug Information Journal publication. It’s not been easy to see how the two groups differentiate themselves. They both had a wide range of responsibilities that are almost identical. I guess it’s the balance between their responsibilities that makes the difference. MI people tend to work more closely with external customers so have a mainly reactive role. Medical Affairs (MA) professionals tend to have predominantly proactive roles. MA focus on working closely with cross-functional brand teams authorising or advising on the scientific content of promotional campaigns. They also produce slide kits and work with Key Opinion Leaders. External customer requests are a smaller part of their role.

 

 

Does it matter? Well, it does to the people doing the job. Medical Affairs seems to be regarded as more important than Medical Information. This perception is based on the work that Medical Affairs do on marketing campaigns, involving dealing with more complex information, evaluation of scientific publications and requiring greater decision making and professional judgement.

 

 

Yet Medical Information professionals interact every day with numerous customers so they have quite a reach. Many MI staff deal with more healthcare professionals in one day than the most efficient and effective sales person. Their customers have proactively come to MI for help, rather than a salesperson seeking an appointment.

 

 

A growing trend in Europe is to outsource first-line enquiries so the MI team start to focus on more “value-added” roles. This has been a reality in the US for many years, where the huge customer base allows more economies of scale and suitable vendors have emerged and consolidated.

 

So will the term Medical Information gradually disappear?

 

How good are the terms Medical Information and Medical Affairs anyway? When I explain to people what I do as a Medical Affairs Consultant or that I work with Medical Information Managers, they are puzzled by both the phrases.

 

So what should we call ourselves – Medicines Information? Drug Information? Scientific Advisors? Customer Contact Advisors? Medical Science Liaisons or any number of variations? I’ve not seen job titles that seem to describe unambiguously what we do.

 

Time to put on the thinking caps!