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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.

A Virtual Advisory Board (VAB) is an ideal platform with which to communicate, engage, and collaborate with KOLs and HCPs.

What Is A Virtual Advisory Board?

A virtual advisory board (or an online or digital advisory board) is an interactive digital discussion forum which allows participants to evaluate content, discuss issues, and interact with each other – all from the comfort of their digital devices. Typically, participants are presented with a selection of data and content, and then asked to comment on the data, complete polls, answer questions, provide opinions, etc.

From a scientific and healthcare perspective, such virtual advisory boards can be used to engage any group of participants – KOLs, nurses, patients, specialists – to solicit advice and discussion on a range of topics, from clinical trial design to patient communication materials.

Why Are Virtual Advisory Boards Increasingly Becoming Popular?

A virtual advisory board is an alternative to the traditional face-to-face advisory board where participants meet in person. Although traditional advisory boards are immensely useful due to the benefits that come from a face-to-face interaction, virtual advisory boards can dramatically reduce costs, increase interactivity, and provide for rapid communication and interaction between participants who may be distributed across the globe in different locations and time zones. The benefits of hosting your advisory board online are clear.

Furthermore, although the original premise of the virtual advisory board centres heavily around the "advisory" nature of such platforms, as reflected in their name, advisory boards 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 Does A Virtual Advisory Board Work?

Participants, whether they be KOLs, HCPs, specialists, payors, nurses, or even patients, are invited to virtually participate in the advisory board. Participation is governed by all the relevant regulatory and compliance requirements of a traditional advisory board e.g. contracts, NDA, Honoraria, etc.

Upon logging into the virtual advisory board, participants are presented with content, discussion points, questions, polls, etc. A good VAB takes the participant through all the different tasks that need to be completed and issues on which advice is sought.

Participants are encouraged to review materials, answer questions, discuss issues, and share their views on particular subjects.

Comments by participants 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.

Can You Use Live Video In A Virtual Advisory Board ?

Traditionally, advisory boards held online have been referred to as a “video meeting” – each participant is visible on video, and everyone joins to discuss an issue or debate a topic

But virtual advisory boards are so much more than just video, and good VAB platforms fully exploit the wealth of didactics and interactive technologies available today.

So, although video is an important part of a VAB, it’s important to consider the balance of “asynchronous” and “synchronous” interaction.

Asynchronous interaction is where participants engage with the content in their own time, e.g. an online advisory board may be open for two weeks, during which participants log in & out, engage with the content, complete tasks, and interact with each other in the digital setting.

Synchronous interaction is a real time event which requires all participants to be present in the VAB at the same time, e.g. a live video Q&A, or watching a live broadcast from a KOL.

Asynchronous and synchronous components can be mixed to create the most effective online 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 Of Virtual Advisory Boards?

Having digital advisory boards can dramatically reduce costs, increase the likelihood of participation by KOLs, provide a forum for the gathering and sharing of deeper insights, and encourage participation from those that may find it difficult in a live setting.

When And 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:

Can Participants Contribute Anonymously In A Virtual Advisory Board?

Many different anonymity models are possible within a virtual advisory board setting. This is definitely one of the key advantages of hosting your advisory board digitally.

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.

Can A Virtual Advisory Board Replace A Real Advisory Board?

Although they share similar aims and objectives, a virtual advisory board cannot recreate or replace the benefits of a face-to-face meeting.

For example, if you are getting a group of important advisers together for the first time who will be communicating and cooperating with each other for many months to come.

However not all of their future cooperation will require them to have face-to-face meetings together, and in those situations an online advisory board would be perfect to continue the engagement.

VABs should therefore be seen as an additional important channel that is part of the overall communication mix to engage with KOLs and other participants.

In some situations, the power and flexibility of hosting online advisory boards definitely provides alternatives to face-to-face meetings, e.g. if you quickly want to get together a group of patients to discuss a new idea, nothing beats a virtual advisory board.

How Do You Set Up A Virtual Advisory Board?

Start with all the key questions you would consider when organising any sort of informed meeting or discussion, e.g. what are the objectives? What sort of participants do you want? What are the outputs you are hoping for? What are the key insights you’re trying to gather? Are they key issues on which you need answers? etc.

Codifying your answers to the above questions can help design the sort of virtual advisory board that would perfectly answer your needs.

For example – would a simple 1-hour live video meeting (a synchronous VAB) with 10 specialists be adequate to answer all your needs? Or is the VAB best done over a two-week period where people have to review issues, provide insights? Or would a mix of both be ideal, a live video session mixed in with asynchronous content?

Other points to consider:

The platform you select must take all the above into account and have the flexibility to evolve with your needs.

We can of course help you with this to design the ideal virtual advisory board event to meet your requirements.

Once these questions have been answered, many regulatory and compliance tasks have to be completed – these will apply to any sort of meeting that you hold with advisers, nurses, patients, etc. From data privacy to contracts, from FMV honorarium to “agreed level of participation” timings.

Finding the right group of participants is also important. It doesn’t matter how good your platform is, if you haven’t got the right group of people, your insights are not going to be of much value!

As soon as these details have been set up, the virtual advisory board can then kick into action!

And then comes the part that is most important of all – collating and analysing the results to extract the insights that can help you. A good platform should be able to generate a plethora of data and analytics based on the interaction and inputs from all the different participants. We also provide medical writers to help evaluate and assess the inputs, just like you would in a real advisory board.

What Else Can You Use Virtual Advisory Boards For?

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 efficient 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"). 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 advisory 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, virtual advisory boards can also be used for interactive education and training.

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

SkyBoard, our VAB platform, is built to address all the needs outlined above and help you through the entire virtual advisory board process, enabling you 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.