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Identifying Key Opinion Leaders in an Online World

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In the world of healthcare data, we know that bringing more nuance to our view of the patient journey better equips us to understand disease progression, the impact of different therapies, gaps in care, and how to get better treatment to more patients. Part of that nuance comes from a deep understanding of which medical professionals are engaging with patients as they journey through the healthcare system – and, in turn, the key opinion leaders (KOLs) who are influencing and educating those physicians, nurses, and caregivers.

Traditionally, that influence was occurring primarily at medical conferences and via healthcare publications. But now more than ever, that influence is unfolding online. 

Over the past decade, digital platforms have played a growing role in discussing and disseminating key scientific information and healthcare research. As the pandemic has brought Life Sciences into the spotlight, even those outside of the industry have seen the power a tweet, blog, or Facebook group can have on the public’s understanding of health.

And as in-person healthcare conferences were reimagined in 2020, social media has become a vital channel for experts and influencers to gather and share insight. More and more, clinical influencers are live-tweeting online conferences, digitally debating the merits of a new therapy, or speculating via online discussion threads about a potential breakthrough clinical trial. 

All these industry changes have given rise to a new type of influence in the healthcare world: the Digital Opinion Leader, or DOL. Now, even as in-person events resume, Medical Affairs teams need to recognize this irreversible shift toward digital communications and take digital influence into account as they navigate KOL targeting and outreach. DOLs have the power to reach massive clinician audiences and, in turn, provide important education for identifying diseases earlier and treating them effectively. 

What is a Digital Opinion Leader and How Do I Find Them?

In 2018, the Medical Affairs Professional Society coined the term, Digital Opinion Leader, whom they describe as: "A Healthcare Professional (HCP) or someone who influences public health, public policies, and public health implementation." Defined broadly, DOLs may include practicing or non-practicing HCPs, health journalists, leaders in patient advocacy, or other health authorities. 

Sussing out these influencers is more complex than reporting on podium speakerships or authored publications. Instead, it requires Medical Affairs teams to work with data and technology innovators to quickly synthesize the myriad of online chatter. With the right analytics, Medical Affairs teams can separate the noise from relevant spheres of influence in a therapeutic area. 

By analyzing social media data and trends, software tools can help capture relevant digital engagement and pinpoint true digital leaders in healthcare. By drawing from all of these sources and allowing for highly tailored segmentation, a “digital engagement score” can be contextualized alongside established clinical, industry, and scientific scores to provide key signals that give Medical Affairs a 360-degree view of a given influencer.

Seeing all these traditional markers of influence alongside digital signals enhances Medical Affairs’ ability to decide how to most effectively engage the right HCP. For instance, if a team wants to connect with an influencer who has been tweeting prolifically about their drug, understanding the provider’s scientific background by exploring their recent scientific publications and speakerships can improve the success of an engagement outreach. Similarly, when looking to identify digitally influential HCPs to participate in an advisory board, Medical Affairs representatives can ensure the provider is not only active on Twitter, but also has robust clinical signals to indicate they are managing relevant patients, as well as strong industry signals to suggest they are open to partnering with Life Sciences companies.

With this level of insight, technology carves out a path for Medical Affairs to connect and engage with the DOLs who are best positioned to reach key audiences with the right scientific findings and information. 

How to Effectively (and Compliantly) Leverage DOLs

It can still be challenging to know how to engage with these DOLs – especially given the tightly regulated nature of the Life Sciences industry.

As a first step, Medical Affairs teams can glean tremendous value by listening to these online conversations. By engaging with influencers where they are already having conversations, Life Sciences teams access authentic insights into what HCPs are fired up about. These insights can be substantially more powerful than survey questions that may not elicit the same level of authenticity or passion. 

In the same vein, monitoring HCP digital conversations can provide access to tens of thousands of the people whose opinions matter most. These social media platforms are almost akin to a massive focus group that can help to better understand the perspectives of the physicians who are directly involved in patient care every day. 

As Medical Affairs professionals, understanding the myriad places where thought leaders are having conversations – then listening to and engaging with those leaders – is key to getting the right therapies into the hands of patients who need them. 

Read more about how Komodo software can help identify and engage KOLs in your therapeutic area.

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