Spotlight interview: 15 minutes on KOL maximisation in pharma

Written by Margot Hannah on Tuesday 6th August 2019

Margot Hannah, Group Managing Director at OPEN Health Medical Communications, takes 15 minutes to answer some key questions on KOL maximisation in pharma. 

1.  What does a Key Opinion Leader look like at present

Interesting question; the term ‘Key Opinion Leader’ (KOL) has been in the industry for decades and the profile probably hasn’t changed much in that time. For example, one might have thought of a KOL as a grey-haired consultant with >20 years’ practice under his or her belt. The more pertinent question however is ‘what are KOLs going to look like in the future?’ As more cost pressures are being put on health services, we’ve seen a broadening in KOL profiles that now includes payers, as well as clinicians, and with patients now more medically sophisticated than ever before, they will (and do) play an important part in shaping healthcare decisions. But what about the next generation of healthcare professionals (HCPs), the ‘Rising Stars’ or ‘Future Leaders’, dare I describe them as ‘millennial’ KOLs; there is certainly a lot for pharma companies to consider to ensure they are prepared to engage in the right way with these healthcare influencers.

2. Do Pharma still value KOLs and how do they work with them?

Yes, they still value KOLs, but there is definitely an opportunity to build more effective and diverse partnerships, as at present we often find that pharma’s temptation can be to push information to customers based on assumptions of what they think the HCP wants to receive. At OPEN Health we first work to understand what the gaps and educational needs are, in turn we partner with the client team and relevant KOLs to develop an impactful and robust medical education programme. The most successful relationships and outcomes derive from this approach, it’s not rocket science.

3. How has the “transparency” agenda changed the way pharma work with a KOL?

The Sunshine Act was passed through US Congress in 2010 (and implemented in 2013) and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) Transfer of Value code was implemented in 2016. As such, it’s been intriguing to see the way our clients have responded to this changing environment. Of the top 40 pharma companies we work with, some have completely halted all activity with KOLs (e.g. sponsoring attendance at international congresses or engaging them as speakers), and others are tying themselves up in knots with internal processes that are actually having a detrimental effect on the relationships they hold with HCPs. Most however are taking a pragmatic and sensible approach whilst keeping the Sunshine Act and EFPIA Transfer of Value code in mind. We as an agency therefore need to be nimble and knowledgeable about the way our clients work with healthcare professionals, and advise and guide them as needed.

4. Are Advisory Boards still as popular as ever?

We still organise and facilitate a large number of Advisory Boards across the globe, but I think it’s fair to say we are probably not running as many as we did 10 years ago.

However, we are definitely delivering more Steering Committee style meetings these days which focus more on a collaborative approach with KOLs, building solutions to a variety of challenges that will ultimately result in better outcomes for patients.

We have also seen changes in the way these sorts of meetings are executed. The traditional face to face Ad Board or Steering Committee meeting is transitioning to an online platform, making it easier for HCPs to engage in discussions and impart their advice and guidance from the convenience of their own office or home. Let’s face it, the more we can do to reduce our carbon footprint with fewer domestic and international flights the better.

This of course all ties back to the changing profile of a KOL; the communication and educational expectations of these healthcare influencers will undoubtedly continue to evolve. As long as we at OPEN Health maintain our approach of hiring the very best of talent, challenging convention and constantly finding innovative solutions, we will extend our exemplary reputation as global medical communications experts and become the most respected healthcare agency on the planet. 


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