Feb 15, 2016
Organizations, whether a start up or an established organization, face ongoing strategic and marketing questions which require a broad range of subject matter expertise to answer. Bringing in large outside consulting firms can be an expensive and time consuming solution. Creating a medical advisory board with a variety of subject field experts can be a cost effective and timely solution which creates a framework for future help.
I have met myriad gifted, bright, articulate entrepreneurs, owners and executives who have solicited my advice on business, medical and health science issues. After I have provided my consultation, I always ask if the company has a Medical Advisory Board (MAB) and frequently the answer is “no”. Since the vast majority of the companies face significant resource constraints, I always suggest creating an MAB. Without breaking the bank, senior business leadership can select the best and brightest of experts in the field to work together to craft solutions to their pressing business needs. The right creative minds working in a MAB can efficiently identify strategic opportunities in the market.
How can an MAB be established? What are the key elements and operational components of a great MAB?
Articulating the specific goal or goals of the MAB is the most important step in creating an effective group. Draft goals/questions which preferably are narrow in scope and clearly stated. If the object is to obtain ongoing feedback or assessment then that should be clear. Be sure that all those involved are aware upfront of deliverables of the group. A timeline is also useful to keep the team focused and productive. A constant reminder of the mission of the MAB can avoid distractions and maintain focus. Frequent reasons to create an MAB include the following: developing or improving product or service interfaces : advising strategy to respond to a dynamic market, monetizing a product or service. Choosing the best and the brightest individuals is straightforward. While subject matter expertise is important, having a dynamic, insightful and engaging approach is equally important. Getting the most knowledgeable members who can also effectively share or inspire their colleagues is ideal. Identifying and choosing a diverse composition of the MAB creates a strong group dynamic; a range of backgrounds is highly desirable. Too often a MAB consists of members who reflect management. An MAB composed of all IT engineers or physicians is not ideal. For instance in a healthcare start up or even established healthcare organization choose individuals with the requisite scientific and medical expertise but also get, informatics, legal, accounting, finance and marketing backgrounds. People with both subject matter expertise and business background are ideal or those with multiple skills and education. Often professionals with behavioral psychology or neurocognitive background are useful as agents of change. Technology expertise beyond IT is sometimes needed and strong system analytic skills are very beneficial. Engineering background frequently is desirable as well. Never forget the importance of customer, patient or public feedback. While not necessarily a requisite for the MAB all final decisions need to be understood in the context of the customer or public at large Scheduling routine meetings is best. The frequency of meetings should based on the complexity of the task. Simple monthly, quarterly or semiannual meetings by web based video conferencing allow an inexpensive solution and facilitate wide geographic inclusion. The ease and accessibility to web based interaction makes the participation of professionals much more likely! Never use simple conference calls. In this day and age conference calling and speakerphones are an anachronism with both technical limitations that make understanding the group dynamic, sharing materials and even knowing who is speaking at a given time impossible. So many inexpensive and user friendly conferencing technologies exist. Choose the one best suited to your companies needs. The size of the group should be no less than four or five and no greater than ten to twelve. If subgroups need to be created to address subtopics of a project, this can be arranged in real time. Research done by GMI ratings has shown smaller Board of Directors are more profitable and if Apple can run its board with 8 people no MAB should be burdened with large number of participants. The MAB should be set up as a time limited group unless the goal is for ongoing evaluation. Creating efficient structured operations of the MAB is key to success. Selecting the best leader of the group to achieve operational excellence is crucial! Poorly run meetings are miserable for all involved and there are basic rules that must be followed for all meetings. Provide the goals of the meeting and agenda in advance. Make sure prep materials are distributed well in advance to allow participants to review. Make sure all previous business and deliverables are addressed. Make sure that the meeting is managed with speakers being limited to a specific time to move the agenda along. Use an adversarial discussion methodology. After 5 minute of dialogue on a agenda item, only allow additional discussion if there is ongoing disagreement. Allow continuing conversation by alternating speakers for and against the issue before the group. Listening to 5 people all agree with the idea of a previous speaker is not productive. Encourage vetting all perspectives which allows robust and complete analysis. Final reports or recommendations which are generated should include minority or dissenting opinions. If future reassessment is needed the dissenting opinions can form a basis for a new strategy or approach. (See previous post for more detailed meeting suggestions ) https://goo.gl/rFU4qq Understanding the distinction between the MAB and a Board of Directors (BOD) facilitates the creation and operation of the MAB. The BOD acts on behalf of the organization with no direct obligation to leadership or management, in a for profit to the shareholders, in a nonprofit to the institution to fulfill its goals and mission. BOD members are often chosen for financial expertise and business contacts which is less frequently true of MAB. When needed there may be an overlap of the BOD and MAB but this is not typically needed. A simple reporting mechanism to achieve communication is effective and can occur through management. Compensating the MAB usually is easy to structure. Interested individuals are those you seek and the ability to network with like minded articulate bright entrepreneurs and subject matter experts is viewed as desirable. Relying on good will alone though does not get the level of engagement that will get superlative results. If there is a tangible significant financial reward for the success of the company then the MAB will be more likely to devote the time and energy to succeed. Compensation for participants can range from cash, stock/options (often contingency based, retainers or even trips for a retreat/meeting. The best is a mutually agreed upon terms which should be very similar for all participants. Nothing more destructive than the word getting out that one member of the MAB is getting more than another for participating. A modest up front compensation with incentive/outcome based future compensation ensures buy in and then ongoing commitment to the enterprise. The creation of an MAB can be transformative to a start up organization and a inexpensive means to get high quality advice from experts. By following the above guidelines both start ups and established for profit and non profit organizations can achieve their short and long-term goals.
Nicolas Argy, M.D., J.D.
Health/Business Consultant/Educator, Patient Safety, Quality, Risk Management, Public Health Advocate, Witness Prep