The optimal mix of AI and human interactions for healthcare provider engagement

AI and human interactions

Artificial intelligence (AI) is not new to the pharmaceutical world; nearly 79% of biopharma companies surveyed by Citeline are either testing or using an established combination of humans and AI technologies in various ways. Pharmaceutical firms all around the world are investing in this technology to address healthcare provider (HCP) engagement and highly developed AI agents can provide satisfying HCP experiences at the same level as human experts. 

However, leveraging an appropriate mix of humans and AI agents is the best strategy to meet the growing HCP need for continuous, multichannel access to medical information. The biggest question for most organisations is: what is the right mix of these AI-driven and human-led HCP interactions? Pharmaceutical companies need to make sure the use of AI in their organisations is the most impactful, letting humans utilise critical thinking where AI is unable to perform. 

Why AI-enabled agents are beneficial to MI operations

There are multiple challenges when exclusively leveraging human support, including resourcing limitations, potential for human error, and higher associated costs. Providing constant, timely access to medical information (MI) that meets HCP demands of today is nearly impossible for global pharmaceutical companies when only utilising and employing human support. Providing sustainably high levels of customer service is a possible challenge if MI teams are short-staffed, overloaded, or on a time crunch. Using AI-based agents to complement the human team removes the risk of potentially negative customer interactions caused by human error or lack of live support. 

According to Citeline, delivering support 24/7, 365 days a year is the most important aspect of MI support. Around-the-clock support, lower costs, and lower rates of human error are all advantages to using AI-based agents in tandem with human workers. Even with these proven benefits, pharma companies are still cautiously moving forward with their AI journeys; but improving the understanding of when and why AI technology should be implemented over human interactions can overcome the cautious outlook many organisations currently have.  

The balance of AI and human driven HCP interactions

To optimise HCP experiences, pharmaceutical companies need to use a blend of AI and human support. This mixed approach enables more responsive and efficient HCP engagements. 

AI agents are not meant to completely replace human support – they are meant to compliment it. AI agents can respond to simple information requests, while human counterparts work to resolve more complicated matters that require critical thinking. This is something to emphasise with organisations that are on the more cautious side when it comes to implementing AI – this technology is meant to help human support teams, not substitute for them. One of the biggest advantages of an integrated AI and human approach to MI requests is agile scalability, which enables an organisation to expand or reduce AI involvement to meet demand as necessary. 

Humans & AI – closing the distance 

While some companies are open to digital innovation and trust AI’s potential to optimise HCP interactions, a lack of IT infrastructure could cause issues in adoption – a problem which 37% of companies reported. The bigger barrier is that 39% of companies reported a lack of internal desire to implement AI at all.

Internal doubt around AI from company leaders is sometimes not unjustified. A senior leader’s perception of AI capabilities may be negatively skewed by poor historical experiences with early "chatbot" agents, leading to the belief that human employees are inherently superior to AI. Advances in AI technology show that is no longer the case.

In recent years, AI has made enormous strides. Modern AI technologies are capable of processing, comprehending, and properly answering intricate product-related queries. The messaging developed by the AI agents is written with language that the inquirer perceives as human, removing the risk of poor experiences caused by nonsensical and disconnected responses that were so common in early agent models. 

For leaders that do not fully trust AI technologies, outsourcing MI operations to call centres can be tempting. The issue with call centres is that they are quite costly when scaling operations up or down rapidly. This fluctuation can be handled efficiently with AI technologies. Yet another issue around call centres is translation. They may need to manage requests in multiple different languages and translate responses appropriately to meet regulatory requirements. Natural language processing (NLP) can be used alongside AI agents to automate the translation of MI messaging and reduce the human error element when it comes to translation. 

By utilising human employees to concentrate on important tasks that require critical thinking rather than repeatedly responding to straightforward requests, AI agents improve the timeliness and agility of HCP contacts and requests for Medical Information, as well as the productivity of human employees. Leveraging AI agents will be key to unlocking the full potential of human MI workforces in the future.

The future of AI-human MI integration

The core challenges for MI teams engaging with HCPs are speed, quality, accessibility, and cost. Incorporating AI and human interaction into the customer experience can produce a near-perfect balance of efficiency, whilst continuing to optimise based on Machine Learning capabilities. AI works to solve simple, straightforward requests, and humans utilise critical thinking to solve more complex ones. Ultimately, a mixed approach brings many benefits to HCP engagements, including reduced operational costs, reduced cases of human error, increased productivity, around-the-clock support and, especially, enhanced customer support.

About the author

Simon JohnsSimon Johns has over 25 years of experience supporting customer projects across all stages of drug development and the full product lifecycle. As director of MI and marketed product safety at IQVIA, he has been managing global MI projects focused on process optimisation and technology enablement that drive enhanced efficiency and customer engagement. Johns is a member of the European DIA Medical Information and Communications Training Team, advising pharmaceutical companies on best industry practices, innovation, and automation. He speaks regularly on topics ranging from implementing 

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3 May, 2023