The professional activity of physicians has traditionally consisted of patient care, teaching/education, and research in varying proportions. These aims, especially education and research, have traditionally been achieved in academic health settings. However, involvement with industry can afford all physicians an opportunity to increase patient referrals, gain exposure to colleagues through a variety of educational opportunities, and participate in meaningful research projects they could not initiate independently.
How to initiate relationships with industry
Here are several ways to initiate a collaboration with industry. A few of the most common ways are to become a site investigator of a multicenter device or pharmaceutical trial, participate as a member of a speaker’s bureau, or obtain training on a new technology and subsequently incorporate it into your clinical practice. To find out what trials are enrolling and looking for additional sites or new studies that are being planned, I would suggest contacting the company’s local representative and have them put you in touch the appropriate personnel in the clinical trials division. For individuals who become involved in trials, this can be a great way to improve your understanding of how to design and conduct clinical trials as well as gain exposure to colleagues with similar clinical and research interests. Some of my closest long-term collaborators and friends have been individuals who I initially met as part of industry trials at investigator meetings. Another approach is to participate in a speaker’s bureau, which can be an excellent way to improve one’s presentation skills as well as gain knowledge with respect to a specific disease state. It is also a great way to network, meet colleagues, and develop a local and regional reputation as a content expert on a specific topic. Methods to find out about such opportunities include touring the exhibit halls during educational meetings and reading scientific journals to identify new products that are launching. I have found these sorts of opportunities can significantly increase topic-based referrals. Finally, obtaining training on a new diagnostic or therapeutic technology (usually through an industry-sponsored course) can allow individuals an opportunity to offer a unique or distinctive service to their community. In addition, as further clinical expertise is gained, the relationship can be expanded to offer local, regional, or even national training courses to colleagues via either on-site or virtual courses. Similarly, opportunities to speak about or demonstrate the technology/technique at educational courses may also follow.
Navigating and expanding the relationship
Once an individual establishes a relationship with a company or has established a reputation as a key opinion leader, additional opportunities for engagement may become available. These include serving as a consultant, becoming a member of an advisory board, participating or directing educational courses for trainees/practitioners, or serving as the principal investigator of a future clinical trial. Serving as a consultant can be quite rewarding as it can highlight clinical needs, identify where product improvement can be achieved, and focus where research and development funds should be directed. Serving on the advisory board can afford an even higher level of influence where corporate strategy can be influenced. Such input is particularly impactful with smaller companies looking to enter a new field or expand a limited market share. There are also a variety of educational opportunities offered by industry including local, regional, and national courses that focus on utilizing a new technology or education concerning a specific disease state. These courses can be held locally at the physician’s clinical site or off site to attract the desired target audience. Finally, being involved in research studies, especially early-stage projects, can be critical as many small companies have limited capital, and it is essential for them to design studies with appropriate endpoints that will ideally achieve both regulatory approval as well as payor coverage. Of note, in addition to relationships directly involving industry, the American Gastroenterological Association Center for GI Innovation and Technology (CGIT) also offers the opportunity to be part of key opinion leader meetings arranged and organized by the AGA. This may allow for some individuals to participate who may be restricted from direct relationships with industry partners. The industry services offered by the CGIT also include clinical trial design and registry management services.