To deliver high standards of support to healthcare professionals we have to be both digitally-savvy and relationship-smart

COVID-19 has changed the way we engage with healthcare professionals (HCPs). At Bristol Myers Squibb, we were already transitioning to a multi-platform model, but the pandemic fast-tracked those plans. Now we need to take those digital learnings and use them to build on the established working practices that we are renowned for, enriching the learning of healthcare professionals and our partners so that we can better treat our patients and improve their lives.

None of us really knows how the ‘new normal’ will impact the way we operate in pharma. What is for certain, however, is that the experiences from the past year have demonstrated that change is not just inevitable but desirable too. Technology has shifted our focus, forced us to act in a more collaborative and agile manner, given us new skills and re-energised older ones.

However, the digitised solutions that we have amassed must not be seen as replacements.

It is important that we do return to face-to-face interactions when the time is right and safe, and in line with Government and NHS Employers guidance.1 It is our optimal way of working, to build connections, being able to sit across a desk, discussing how we can innovate with the NHS and improve patient lives. When we are back in the room with each other, we must complement the new techniques with our more traditional ones.

This past year has been an enormously fulfilling learning experience for me. It has shown me that we can’t be one or the other – digital experts or relationship-builders. We have to be both and the more that we push ourselves out of our comfort zones, the more effective we will be.

Before the pandemic, only 15% of health and human service organisations in the UK had managed to embed digital tools in the way they work.2 At Bristol Myers Squibb, we have fast-tracked innovations that can support HCPs and patients during the pandemic.

We are establishing deep scientific knowledge and sharing best practice across the NHS through virtual peer-to-peer engagement, utilising channels such as webinars and podcasts and placing content on microsites to provide HCPs with the opportunity to ‘watch on demand’. One of the great things about this virtual world is the flexibility that allows us to deliver enriched learning and engagement, at a time best for them.

The digital technologies that Bristol Myers Squibb has developed will help us to continue to meet the needs and interests of our HCPs, engage in new ways of working and maintain strong relationships, whilst ensuring we hold the patient at the heart of all we do.

An observation by athlete Dan Millman, who blends eastern philosophy and western approaches to health, has always resonated with me – particularly so today. In his book, The Way Of The Peaceful Warrior, he writes: ‘The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old but on building the new.’

And here I am with over 30 years’ experience in the pharmaceutical industry, all spent in a commercial field role, adapting to and embracing the innovation in digital virtual technology. I’ve not fought it, I’ve embraced it, and it’s been inspiring to see so many of my colleagues grasp the opportunity to learn new skills. I truly believe that it is resulting in a shift in our industry that will transform how we engage with HCPs for the better.

By Fiona Duncan, Key Account Manager, Bristol Myers Squibb, UK and Ireland


1. NHS Employers: Supporting staff to return to the workplace,, and Government National guidance,

2. Embracing digital: is COVID-19 the catalyst for lasting change? EY Report. 2020. Available at: Last accessed: March 2021

Job code: NO-GB-2100117