Patient Opinion Leader – Patients Shaping Healthcare Decisions

Patient Opinion Leader – Patients Shaping Healthcare Decisions

Ariel Katz

February 9, 2021

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When’s the last time you’ve been to a new restaurant without checking out its online reviews first? If you answered “yes” to this question, you are within the majority of the consumer population. According to a study, 60% of consumers said their decisions to make a purchase are heavily influenced by blogs or social media posts of a trusted peer.

Global companies are taking the hint; the World Federation of Advertisers found that 65% of advertisers are planning on spending more money on influencer marketing in 2019.

Healthcare has long been different. When it comes to making decisions about their health, most patients listen to healthcare professionals - and nobody else. But this dynamic is changing thanks, in no small part, to the same technologies that enable you to get reviews about that new restaurant.

Using digital and social media, people suffering from a disease or those caring for them can now connect with fellow patients around the globe and share information, experiences, tips, and knowledge. This ability to connect around a common cause has given rise to a new kind of opinion leader in healthcare: the patient opinion leader (POL).

Patient Opinion Leaders – Trust Based on Shared Experiences

Pharmaceutical companies have long invested in relationship building with key opinion leaders (KOLs) – top medical experts, physicians or researchers – that other healthcare professionals (HCPs) trust and look towards for guidance.

While HCPs remain the most important source of information for most patients, many now realize that patient opinion leaders are another trustworthy source. These fellow patients have suffered through many of the same challenges and in the process have become quite knowledgeable about their disease, treatment options, ongoing clinical trials, side effects, and all the challenges that come with suffering from it. POLs have quite literally walked in the shoes of the patient and understand what they are going through.

However, not everybody out there commenting on their disease is a patient opinion leader. POLs are patients who have dedicated a lot of time and energy to learning about their illness and paired that with a passion to spread that knowledge. They generally possess good basic knowledge of treatment options and relevant recent research; they know the best physicians and treatment centers and are aware of ongoing clinical trials in their disease area. They are not medical professionals and can’t give medical advice or diagnose a disease but they speak the language of the patients and help spread information about the disease often only via social media and blogs but increasingly also as speakers at medical conferences. Importantly, POLs know what it means to live with a disease on a daily basis and can relay their own struggles, set-backs and triumphs first hand – something most physicians can’t do.

In addition, POLs generally have good communication skills and consequently a large number of online followers and with that comes significant influence.

POLs in the Age of Patient Centric Healthcare

The rise of POLs coincides with the healthcare system trying to become more patient centric. In this environment, POLs have an increasingly important role to play as a conduit between pharmaceutical companies and patients. POLs can share their own insights and experience – as well as that of their followers - with companies developing treatments. POLs are therefore valuable resources of feedback about how well treatments work in the real world. Working with a group of POLs - rather than hundreds or even thousands of individual patients - is an efficient way for pharmaceutical companies to learn about patients’ experiences with their products. Some companies have begun hiring POLs for their insight and the contributions they can make or turning to them for help recruiting clinical trial participants.

POLs can also facilitate the flow of knowledge back from pharmaceutical companies to their communities and provide information about the latest clinical trials, upcoming treatment options, and new resources that are available to the patients.

In a time when the patient’s voice is becoming more powerful it is only logical that patient opinion leaders are starting to play a more important role in the healthcare system and pharmaceutical companies are increasingly listening to these new influencers who have significant sway based on their reach and the trust they have earned with patients.

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