Virtual Advisory Boards

Continually engaging and interacting with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), Experts, and HCPs for a variety of reasons is an essential part of Medical Affairs and commercial activities. Successful collaboration of this nature is nestled heavily in the exchange of information and advice.

The Virtual Advisory Board (VAB) is now an established part of the communication mix – another vehicle with which to communicate, engage, and collaborate with KOLs and HCPs.

What is a Virtual Advisory Board?

A VAB is a virtual space — most aptly described as an interactive digital discussion forum — where the participants are presented with a selection of questions and scenarios in different styles and formats. It is an alternative to the traditional live advisory board where participants meet in person.

The original premise of the VAB centres heavily around the "advisory" nature of such platforms, as reflected in their name — a virtual forum for engaging experts to solicit advice on key issues on a range of topics, everything from clinical trial design to assessing the value of a new biomarker.

However, VABs can also be used for other applications including education and communication initiatives aimed at HCPs — at the end of this discussion we list three such applications using SkyBoard, our virtual advisory board application.

How do Virtual Advisory Boards work?

Participants, whether they be KOLs, HCPs, specialists, payors, nurses, even patients, are invited to contribute in these digital discussion forums, reviewing materials, answering questions, discussing issues, and sharing their views on particular subjects.

A virtual ad board can also be used to determine the different stances KOLs may have on issues such as experimental approaches to treatment, or different management methodologies.

Comments by peers can be posted, polls and surveys can be created and taken, and a multitude of other features commonly found in such digital platforms can be used to enhance the interactive process.

An important consideration within any virtual advisory board is the balance of asynchronous and synchronous interaction. Asynchronous interaction is where participants engage with the content in their own time, e.g. over two weeks during which the VAB is open. Synchronous interaction is real time events which require all participants to be present in the VAB at the same time e.g. a live video Q&A.

Asynchronous and synchronous components can be mixed to create the most effective virtual advisory board experience possible e.g. asynchronous content such as polls and discussion forums combined with synchronous content such as live video chats at specific time points.

What are the benefits?

Virtual advisory boards carry a litany of advantages.

The most immediate is costs. You no longer have to spend money paying for flights and other expenses the experts may accrue.

The speed at which you can set up a VAB is significantly quicker. Instead of waiting months for everyone’s schedules to align, you can arrange a virtual ad board in a matter of weeks.

Removing the need for travel also increases the chances for senior KOLs, who may otherwise be too busy to travel and take significant time off to attend a single advisory board, to participate in your VAB. They may feel more inclined to lend their insights if it’s as simple as logging on.

Additionally, there may be instances where KOLs are unable to attend an ad board because of forces outside of their control. Flights can get delayed or cancelled, but with a VAB, the only concern you might have is the stability of your internet connection.

Moreover, with KOLs from anywhere in the world being able to connect to a virtual space, the net you cast to gather these experts increases significantly. You can have a multitude of experts in different tiers in one digital platform and can benefit from the larger variety of thought.

Such flexibility means that you can schedule multiple types of virtual advisory boards with different target audiences. For example, you can have a virtual ad board split between different therapy areas or perhaps even have VABs with regional KOLs before passing the information over to global KOLs and vice versa. From there you’ll be able to gather all the data you need and get a more complete picture of what experts think, what they agree on, what they don’t, and potentially their social dynamics.

Virtual advisory boards can also give participants the ability to participate anonymously if they wish. For instance, full anonymity is where names are withheld in both the list of participants and when posting comments; a scenario best fitting for trying out new experts in an ad board setting. Alternatively, you can opt for semi-anonymity where names are withheld only when posting comments, although everyone can see the full list of who their fellow VAB participants are. This scenario encourages people to comment on matters honestly and challenge the views of others without worrying about political or cultural ramifications.

The absence of time-pressure is a feature KOLs similarly appreciate. Participants in a virtual advisory board have the luxury of an increased thinking time, so they are better able to deliberate over questions, digest the information that’s been given and craft a carefully considered response. This is especially useful for when there are reference materials — always instantly available in a VAB setting — that are necessary to read in order to have truly informed discussions.

An advantage that benefits both clients hosting the VAB and experts connecting through it, is that there is generally a higher percentage of contribution from participants. In conjunction with the ability to be anonymous and having more time to respond, there is less of a chance for experts to be overwhelmed by the demand for their presence, or clients experiencing 20% of participants making 80% of noise.

Where can Virtual Advisory Boards be used?

The functionality and convenience of a VAB means that there are multiple scenarios where they can prove its usefulness to multiple stakeholders:

Going beyond traditional VAB applications

What else can we do to capitalise further on the Virtual Advisory Board (VAB) premise, given that their benefits are clear and that they should now be considered a normal part of the mix when engaging KOLs and HCPs?

Based on what our clients and KOLs tell us after using Skyboard, our Virtual Advisory Board platform, here are a few things to consider

1. Beyond their traditional "advisory" function, VABs can also work well as a platform for HCPs to consume interactive education or training. Use the Skyboard VAB to create original content, mix in slides with videos, add in polls and other interactive features, enable discussion and commentary, and include live Zoom/WebEx video sessions at set times (e.g. live Q&A with the KOL content author/trainer) to create an engaging experience. And it’s all infinitely scalable – create one educational/training Skyboard event and engage 10 or 1000 participants through multiple sessions at marginal cost.

2. Global clients have discussed using our Skyboard VAB platform for "internal" use. Given the challenges they face with affiliates in different time zones, an internal VAB could provide an interesting channel to get affiliate feedback, collect comments, discuss key issues, etc. And ideally it should be as easy to set up, run, and analyse as a Survey Monkey* survey (Yes, the working title of the "SkyBoard for internal use" tool we are currently building is called SkyBoard Monkey!).

3. What happens after a typical VAB finishes? You collate all the results and then share it with others in your organisation, hoping they will read it and act on it. But imagine, if after a SkyBoard VAB event has finished, you then open the event in a "Results Mode" to your colleagues within your organisation. So, they can now see the results of the original event, read what KOLs have said in discussions, look at graphs, and even add their own comments (e.g. "this issue mentioned above by KOL x is especially important in my country"). So, in effect, you have an "internal" virtual ad board event to discuss the results of the actual virtual ad board event. Neat.

(*many other survey tools are available)

Summary

Virtual ad boards are a valuable tool with which to engage a multitude of participant types for a variety of applications.

Going beyond the traditional advisory functions, VAB platforms can also be used for interactive education and training.

The benefits they bring to both participants and organisers are clear and tangible.

SkyBoard is a virtual advisory board platform through which to engage any group of participants in interactive advisory, research, educational, or promotional activities.

It’s super cost-effective, fully customisable, instantly scalable, and allows for improved engagement, deeper insights, and better participation.

Skyboard is developed & managed by a company whose sole purpose is to help you to better identify, understand, and engage with Experts and stakeholders of all types.

Skyboard - The Virtual Advisory Board providing a modern alternative.