In the complex world of healthcare engagement, the role of key opinion leaders (KOLs) in influencing the behavior of healthcare professionals is becoming increasingly important. And as with any healthcare engagement strategy, there is more to working with key opinion leaders than simply adding another channel to the mix.

Why consider KOLs?

With so many new ways of connecting with and influencing healthcare professionals, why consider working with KOLs at all? If you are responsible for a pharmaceutical product then I would suggest the primary answer to this is quite simple: doctors trust each other (more than they trust pharma).

The effect of this is seen in the growth of physician-only networks over the past decade. Doctors on these networks talk about anything from clinical matters to all kinds of topics completely unrelated to their professional lives. The reason for this is simple – the mutual respect that exists amongst healthcare professionals for the opinion of their peers.

Another good reason is that experts add credibility in a time-constrained world. Of course a good KOL is not necessarily a healthcare professional, but they must certainly be a credible, trusted expert. It is quite possible that the trusted experts you choose to collaborate with as KOLs will find it easier to gain the ear (whether in published form, via doctors’ networks, at conferences, or via any other channel) of other healthcare professionals than your medical sales team will.

Five questions to start your KOL strategy

As an example of the role of KOLs, consider the launch of a new pharmaceutical product. As a component of your engagement strategy, KOLs could have a significant impact upon the success of the launch. Yet without the right approach, significant resources may be wasted by everybody.

Some simple questions to ask yourself when developing a KOL strategy include:

  1. Why are KOLs important to us?
  2. What do we want them to do?
  3. How will we support them in achieving our goals?
  4. How will we define and measure success?
  5. Who do we want to engage (which experts should be our KOLs)?

Understanding influence

In order to identify and prioritise the right key opinion leaders, it is worthwhile understanding the relative impact of any professional or expert on their peers. Here are three areas to consider:

  • Connectedness: How well connected is the KOL with their peers?
  • Expertise: Is the KOL known as a leading expert in a particular therapy area relevant to your product?
  • Credibility: Credibility is likely to be a function of connectedness and expertise, and may be measured by examining the effect of the KOL’s activity on others in the past.

Learn from your peers

Creation Healthcare’s publication for leaders in healthcare, Healthcare Engagement Strategy, is partnering with KOL & Stakeholder Engagement Europe conference which takes place in Berlin, 4-5 May 2011. As a reader, we are delighted to offer you a discount of €300 to attend the event. Simply book your place using code ‘CREATION’.

Meanwhile, for confidential advice about integrating emerging healthcare engagement channels into your business goals, contact Daniel Ghinn on +44 (0)207 849 3167.