What are KOLs?

Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) in the context of the medical, pharmaceutical and healthcare spheres, is a term to describe a group of professionals, often Researchers, that are recognized by their peers as "go-to people" for specific areas of research. These key opinion leaders usually work with industry leaders by providing immediate feedback and insight that can significantly impact awareness on marketing and product features related to new drugs being launched or tested. These are given by experienced and well-respected physicians, patient advocates, health journalists, or other health authorities who aim to inform strategically and thoughtfully about symptoms, current research, novel treatments and medications to their peers and the public.

Why are KOLs important?

For many years the pharmaceutical and biomedical industries have been working alongside Key Opinion Leaders. The main goal of this liaison has been to follow up on the development of treatments, therapies and researching effectiveness and side effects of treatment protocols.

KOLs are prominent and reputable opinion-givers that have an influential leadership and whose recommendations are valued and listened to. They are considered trusted experts in their fields and shape the opinion of others based on the content and information they provide. Because of this, pharmaceutical companies deeply rely on KOLs and partner with them. These industry experts help conduct clinical trials and sometimes serve as ambassadors for new drugs for the industry. Hence, they play an important role in marketing strategies as their reputation, expertise and influence help support the marketing efforts. They have become an essential part in the launching of new drug campaigns.

KOLs vs influencers

There are many opinions on the matter of the similarities and differences between KOLs and influencers. The term influencer is not new, but KOLs perhaps is a bit less known. The term Key Opinion Leader was coined as early as the 1940s in studies of media influence to understand how much mass media could shape the opinion of the public.

Generally speaking, KOLs influence the influencers. They are well trusted because they provide dependable and reliable information and have knowledge and expertise in their fields but not all KLOs are active on social media. On the other hand, influencers' spheres of action revolve around social media where they can build their persona and gather followers with the content they create and share. It is their followers who consider them as KOLs, so at times influencers are KOLs and it can also be said KOLs are influencers, but not all consider themselves this way.

Identifying KOLs

According to their realm of action, KOLs can be categorized into two groups: Traditional KOLs and Digital Opinion Leaders (DOLs). The term Digital Opinion Leaders was created in 2018 by the Medical Affairs Professional Society. They defined it as "A Healthcare Professional (HCP) or someone who influences public health, public policies, and public health implementation." DLOs exclusively use social media to connect with healthcare audiences and share information and collaborate with peers.

Because of the reach of social media, DOLs seem to have a broader influence but KOLs also engage in online sessions and events to further expand their opinions and recommendations. Both provide input and content for search engines that are solely devoted to pharmaceutical and medical research. So, their scope of influence is far-reaching, and they shape the current trends in the medical field.

These platforms play an ever-growing role in helping better understand disease progression, effect of therapies, disparities and outreach of healthcare being provided to patients. Therefore, KOLs and DOLs play a crucial role when it comes to educating and influencing physicians, nurses, and caregivers. Discussing and spreading scientific information and healthcare research is the aim of these digital portals. This then has a direct effect over the pharmaceutical industry and marketing strategies used for specific drugs and treatment.

Before pandemic time, most of this information and communication was happening in medical conferences and events through research publications. Now, the influence is occurring mainly online within a virtual environment. DOL physicians are followed by their peers and patients alike, but they are also followed more and more by people who are interested in health issues and medical news and updates. This shift to the digital world provides a massive highway of communication and a world of possibilities within the medical and pharmaceutical fields as never seen before.

KOLs are crucial

Аs drug regulations become more and more challenging for pharmaceutical companies, they have begun collaborating more deeply with key opinion leaders (KOLs) throughout development of drugs in the industry. KOLs provide innovative research, opinions and actions shared in journals, publications in trusted research journals and conferences that have a significant effect on the adoption of a new product or brand and profoundly influence consumer decisions.

Their importance in the pharmaceutical, medical and healthcare spheres is unquestionable due to the major impact they have in the communication of new pharmaceutical and medical research, in moving the media debate and in the drug development cycle in general. KOLs participate from the very beginning in discovery and research, access to treatment and in the final marketing process helping understand disease and the therapeutic effects of a product. Likewise, they guide the design of clinical trials, and bring visibility to the needs of patients. Thus, for many companies in the field, KOLs secure many advantages which also involve more exposure of the firm, influence over a market and gain substantial profit.