KOL: Key Opinion Leaders in Healthcare and HEOR

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Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) shape the healthcare field by helping to meet medical needs and giving valuable insights to companies and experts involved in innovative therapies, drug development, and education programs. In the following sections, we’ll explain what KOLs are and why they are important in Health Economics and Outcomes Research.

What is a HEOR Key Opinion Leader?

A Key Opinion Leader in Health Economics and Outcomes Research (HEOR) is a distinguished individual with years of relevant experience that can significantly influence healthcare decision-makers, researchers, life sciences experts, hospitals, health centers, and pharmaceutical companies. They are well-respected experts who have proven their experience and offer valuable expertise in a particular field.

These thought leaders could be investigators, patient advocacy group members, health system managers, hospital and health center executives, educators, or physicians, among others. KOLs can be more easily identified if they held a position as an advisory board member in a healthcare organization, published research in a medical journal, spoke at scientific conferences, participated in several clinical trials, and treated a significant number of patients in a single specialty area. 

At the same time, they can be distinguished if they found new treatments for patients with rare diseases and wrote scientific publications in peer-reviewed medical journals. They essentially act as leaders among their peers and share informed and influential opinions with industry partners, overcoming clinical inertia and ensuring patients get the life-changing therapies they need.

Why Are Key Opinion Leaders Important in HEOR?

The Health Economics and Outcomes Research (HEOR) field can immensely benefit from Key Opinion Leaders because they can generate awareness about innovative treatments, new drugs, and new technologies. They can even help increase suppliers’ sales volume and impact purchasing decisions of healthcare centers.

Pharmaceutical and medical device companies often collaborate with KOLs to provide valuable insight into disease states, improve products, and inform about clinical trial designs. In addition, they can help companies access their target audience and gain buy-in at a particular hospital or health network.

A Rich Collaboration Between KOLs and Pharmaceutical Companies

Pharmaceutical companies collaborate with healthcare professionals and biomedical research scientists with these objectives in mind:

  • Develop new therapies
  • Address unmet medical needs
  • Educate healthcare providers and patients 
  • Support the approval of a new drug by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

This relationship starts from early-stage clinical development and contributes to market access, medical affairs, research development, and commercial relations within the pharmaceutical industry and networks. They can influence the conduct and publication of pivotal trials, contribute to internal and external training, and deliver presentations to healthcare professionals, payers, policymakers, and patients.

Within a clinical development program, Key Opinion Leaders help pharma companies design research studies to obtain relevant data that may lead to initial approval or expanded indications of a drug or medical device product. Their advice also serves on postmarketing studies in order to generate real-world evidence that can demonstrate a drug product’s value pertaining to health economics and outcomes research (HEOR).

Moreover, KOLs can work with clinical trials as investigators, recruiting study subjects from their own practice, if applicable, and thus generating data and drawing valuable conclusions for their peers, other researchers, and medical professionals. Lastly, they can serve as lead investigators at scientific congresses, presenting insights, findings, and other health outcomes.

The best relationships for Key Opinion Leaders are the ones that allow them to contribute to the development of new treatments that will improve patient care while they connect with their peers in a meaningful way.

Types and Tasks of Key Opinion Leaders

Key Opinion Leaders are usually classified based on their fields of expertise and potential influence. They can be nationally or internationally recognized physicians who:

  • Lead the development of clinical practice guidelines.
  • Hold leadership positions in professional societies, local or regional.
  • Have an extensive professional network of peers, colleagues, fellow committee members, and coauthors.
  • Participate in clinical trials as a member of a steering committee or as an investigator
  • Publish high-impact journals, including primary research articles, meta-analyses, and expert editorials.
  • Offer medical expert testimony to courts or government agencies.
  • Are frequent presenters at meetings, continuing medical education events, and industry-sponsored P2P speaker programs.
  • Hold appointments as directors of academic centers of excellence.

There can also exist digital thought leaders who are active on social media platforms, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Doximity, Sermo, ResearchGate, and DocMatter. These individuals may be thought leaders/KOLs at the national, regional, and/or local level.

On a different matter, Key Opinion Leaders’ critical tasks are as follows:

  1. Identify stakeholder concerns by investigating data analytics.
  2. Cultivate each expert’s interests and strengths.
  3. Build strong relationships with their peers.
  4. Pairing experts with optimal initiatives.

How to Find Key Opinion Leaders

The following are key aspects of finding KOLs:.

  1. Examine recent scientific congresses to see who is presenting lectures, symposia sessions, or other activities related to the therapeutic area of interest.
  2. Identify authors on clinical practice guidelines, clinical studies, and other publications on the relevant disease state.
  3. Seek referrals from thought leaders you already work with.
  4. Watch or listen to influential experts giving lectures or interviews. You can watch some of these programs on YouTube, listen to audio podcasts on other services such as iTunes or Spotify, or find them on specialty-specific websites.
  5. Search for recent Continuing Medical Education (CME) in the therapeutic area.
  6. Select KOLs that can represent the breadth of your target audience.

You can also follow this plan for identifying  KOLs:

  1. Define variables. Know if your therapeutic field can be broken down into different specialties. Learn about the landscape. Consider the expertise you need to represent within your team, define what you want to achieve in supporting future projects, and how many KOLs you need.
  2. Search in multiple sources, such as clinical trial databases, publications, journals, learned societies, congress meetings, patient advocacy sites, and regulatory/purchasing groups. Obtain primary data.
  3. Analyze and rank data. Develop an informed algorithm that can match the predefined characteristics of your preferred KOL, create an ordered list with the right number of qualifying thought leaders, and change the weighting of the parameters to see how it affects the score of your candidates.
  4. Profile. Build more specific profiles of the candidates to have a better insight into how they will fit as a team and outline their career background and research areas to have a clearer picture.

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