The Importance of COLs and DOLs

The Importance of COLs and DOLs

Ariel Katz

February 9, 2021

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Are you Working With COLs?

“COL” is not a typo that snuck by proof-reading, we meant to say COL – Connected Opinion Leader rather than KOL – Key Opinion Leader.

Just like how the role of medical science liaison is changing, broadening, and spinning off specialized jobs such as Health Outcome Liaisons or Payer Liaisons, the KOL side is adding new players as well. COLs are just one of the emerging influencer roles, in addition to Digital Opinion Leaders, or DOLs.

Move Over KOLs!

KOLs have been around for decades. Their roles are well-established, and their importance for pharmaceutical companies as advisors, speakers, presenters, and authors of scientific publications remains persistent.

KOLs aren’t going to go away any time soon, but they need to move over and make room for the new players, that use digital and social media rather than talks at conferences and peer-reviewed publications to shape their colleagues’ opinions.

Research has revealed that patients are increasingly using the Internet to access medical information as a primary source, pivoting the role of physicians to the second source patients access to obtain medical information – after the Internet. Given that development, the rising value of Patient Opinion Leaders does not come as a surprise.

However, how about healthcare providers (HCPs)? Surely, they must prefer detailed, well-researched articles over little nibbles of information that are texted, tweeted, or emailed to them, right?

Yes and no. Just like the rest of us, physicians in both their professional and personal lives, rely heavily on mobile devices. For them, the Internet is a tool employed to obtain information in real time and to communicate with each other, their patients, and their staff.

Moreover, they too depend on trusted sources to help them gather the necessary and accurate information that hides within the enormity of the Internet.

Digital Opinion Leaders – Shaping Opinion One Article at a Time

That’s where the DOLs come in: they use digital and social media channels to circulate any content of interest. Whether it is a blog or an article on a relevant platform, they highlight specific content, exposing that information to HCPs. They harness the power of social media to amplify their message and present it in a way that catches the attention of the HCPs and engages them. Since no HCP stands the slightest chance of reading everything that is published about their specialty, a well-written article about the essence of a scientific publication or a review article makes life a lot easier. If the content was determined to be valuable, the HCP could still decide to dig deep and read the scientific paper. Over time, and mirroring human interaction in the real world, people learn whom they can trust to deliver valuable content through their preferred channel.

As of now, pharmaceutical companies have not systematically engaged DOLs and often efforts to identify and engage them are one-off projects. However, the outsized influence of DOLs will make it necessary for companies to develop internal points of contact with DOLs and guidelines around the do’s and don’ts of that interaction.

Connected Opinion Leader – Social Media Savvy KOLs

In this new universe, COLs fall somewhere between the DOLs and the KOLs. They are physicians who engage actively in social media and have created a sizeable following. While the majority of HCPs are users of digital and social media, a minority is actively contributing via social media and an even smaller minority has built a large online following. Hence, Connected Opinion Leaders are still somewhat of a rarity, but they can leverage significant influence on their audience of peers.

While KOLs are here to stay and will continue to shape the opinions of their peers through scientific dialogue and publications, these new opinion leaders are anticipated to continue gaining importance. As more and more aspects of our daily and professional lives shift online and into the cloud, as our communication will increasingly be remote and parts of medicine will be conducted remotely, it is only logical that information will be exchanged and opinions might be shaped through digital media channels and sources.

With the percentage of millennials among the HCPs steadily increasing, we will likely see a transition in focus on the importance of COLs. This generation has been raised with digital and social media as a fundamental aspect of their lives. It wouldn’t be a surprise for them, in the future, to continue to integrate their communication preference with their profession.

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