Want new patient relationships? Digital-savvy KOLs could be your intro

Want to reach a key opinion leader (KOL) at work? Try their mobile. Ninety-five percent of influential physicians now use smartphones for work, according to Kantar Media's latest semiannual survey of medical and surgical professionals.

When using those smartphones, 86% of KOLs use at least one medical app, compared to 76% of all physicians. They're also more likely to use technology to communicate with patients--53% email their patients versus just 38% of all doctors. Social networks are more important to KOLs, too, with 64% of using medical association social networks compared to 45% of all physicians.

Those are statistically significant differences, as they say in the numbers world. For pharma, the KOL take-up of tech means companies need to get serious about digital to attract quality KOL relationships.

The timing is in drugmakers' favor. As access to doctors tightens up for reps, digital relationships can replace those interactions--although the new relationships will be different.

Cardiologist David Lee Scher

David Lee Scher, a cardiologist and digital health tech consultant, said the push model from pharma to physicians needs to change to a pull model for information and resources that goes from physicians to pharma. Doctors want information from pharma, they just want it on their own terms, he said.

Scher defines "digital KOLs" as an emerging new type of influential doctor. They are key opinion leaders who are not only experts in their fields, but also know how to navigate the digital world and are active in it. They may or may not be traditional KOLs.

For instance, Scher and more than 40 other physicians were recently named as Klick Health's most influential digital health social influencers, with some noted opinion leaders in both worlds. KevinMD, a well-known digital doc on the list, has also called for digital KOLs to help transition healthcare digital and serve as "faces of patient advocacy."

Digital KOLs can perform traditional KOL functions, as speakers and drug educators, but they can also help pharma understand technology use and marketing in healthcare, and provide a bridge to patients, proponents say. "Pharma companies realize the importance of a digital strategy and the models are first emerging. Digital KOLs can help pharma formulate them," Scher said.

The added benefit to tapping digital KOLs is that they already have direct patient relationships--and pharma marketers know how difficult it can be to build their own.

"I see this as a new way of doing things. I think that these KOLs should support traditional KOL (relationships); there's no reason to have two types," Scher said. "But digital KOLs are needed because of the unique mindset and skills they possess."

- check out the Kantar study
- see Klick's list of social media KOLs
- get more from KevinMD

Special Report: Top 10 pharma companies in social media