by Jason Brandt (@jasondmg3)
Are patients the mega opinion leaders of the future?
Thanks to increasing accessibility and availability of information, patients are becoming experts on their diseases. When they talk to doctors, they are educated and often know what they need or the options available to them. More patients head online to learn about their condition and ask for specific prescriptions. Not only are they conducting research but theyre sometimes more current on the latest technologies or treatments than their doctors. And, theyre sharing that knowledge with other patients through their social networks and online communities.
Opinion leaders physicians and researchers hired by pharmaceutical companies to motivate other physicians to prescribe a particular drug – have long played a key role in medicine. As medicine becomes more patient-centric, the empowered patient is increasingly influential, giving way to the pharmaceutical industrys newest KOL.
Sociologists Paul Lazarsfeld and Elihu Katz coined the phrase “opinion leader in Personal Influence to describe how media messages were shared through personal contact with influential people. While Lazarsfeld and Katz studied face-to-face interactions, its social media and other technologies that are driving the two-step flow of communication and putting the power in patients hands.
KOLs are a critical component of any marketing plan. Using iPads, tablets and mobile devices, patients are learning about treatment options prior to a physician visit, using health-related apps to manage their care and are especially effective at delivering messages to their peers. There has been a profound transformation in how patients gather and share information and its time to take advantage of these relationships.
Physicians are also turning to these same sources blogs, message boards, social networks, etc. to expand their knowledge or help direct patients to where they can find credible information about their condition. Digital media has redefined not just how we obtain information, but how patients make decisions regarding their care.
This paradigm shift in the doctor-patient relationship creates new opportunities for pharmaceutical companies to strengthen brand messages and position itself as a leading source for health-related information. Pharma should place emphasis on engaging with patients within existing regulatory parameters to increase advocacy activity and gather valuable marketing feedback. Just because formal social media guidelines have not been issued doesnt mean pharma should rest on its digital laurels.
Todays patients are the key opinion leaders of the future and can help pharma perpetuate its messages and values to a larger community. Its time to engage with patients to ensure they access credible information and help them make informed decisions and have more proactive discussions with other patients and the medical community.
Recognizing patients as the new KOL is a win-win for both parties as social media continues to play an increasingly important role in the doctor-patient relationship. For pharma companies that have yet to get active on social networks, its time to step up their game. After all, its where the patients are whether theyre looking to improve their own state of wellness or that of a family member. And, the better educated they are, the more likely they are to share content.
How are you tapping into the power of the industrys newest KOL?