What is a key opinion leader?

A key opinion leader (KOL) is a trusted, well-respected influencer with proven experience and expertise in a particular field. In healthcare, these thought leaders could be physicians, hospital executives, health system directors, researchers, patient advocacy group members, and more.

Because KOLs come from such a wide range of roles and backgrounds, it can be difficult to discern who these thought leaders are. These individuals might have distinguished themselves in one of the following ways:

  • Spoken at a national conference or event
  • Published their research in a medical journal
  • Participated in a significant number of clinical trials
  • Held a position as a board member within a respected organization
  • Treated or diagnosed a high volume of patients in a single specialty area

Physicians may distinguish themselves as a key opinion leader by finding new treatments for patients with a rare disease and publishing their related research in a peer-review medical journal.

Why are key opinion leaders important in healthcare?

Because key opinion leaders have so much experience, they carry significant influence within their communities. This means that KOLs might be able to generate awareness about a new drug or device, and even help to increase sales volume for suppliers. Key opinion leaders might also be able to impact purchasing decisions within their own hospitals or networks.

Pharmaceutical and medical device companies, in particular, often consult with key opinion leaders in various phases of development and testing. KOLs not only provide insight into a specific disease state—including existing treatments or areas of continued research—but they can also help to inform clinical trial design, product improvements, and go-to-market messaging.

Pharmaceutical and medical device companies might also leverage this relationship later in the development process and use their KOL contact to gain buy-in at a particular hospital or health network. With their new product familiarity and swaying power, key opinion leaders can help these companies access their target audience.