While attending a recent meeting, I fell into a fairly deep discussion with some colleagues about the concept of “key opinion leaders.” My colleagues, who were all very well respected and established in their own rights, stated that often today, it feels as though not much more than a social media account is needed to proclaim key opinion leader status. While this is rather cynical (and perhaps short-sighted), the issue is a valid one in terms of what criteria are applied when considering the credibility of the sources of information on which we rely that impact patient care.
Key opinion leaders are often used to influence a market or, more specifically, a product, which in some sense establishes them as their own marketing agency. In fact, they can play key roles in influencing a variety of technology, politics, culture, science, and healthcare.
One distinguishing factor about key opinion leaders working in biomedical sciences and healthcare is the moral obligation upon them given their potential direct impact on the health of individual patients. In this regard, these professionals—while executing leadership roles that influence their peers—must have the key clinical and scientific experiences that actually establish them, with credentials, as an influencer in their field.
I came across a peer-reviewed publication that promotes a defined standard for opinion leaders (Meffert, 2009). The abstract stated, “Key opinion leaders (KOLs), also known as thought leaders, are experts in their field upon whom we depend for original research leading to disease understanding and new therapies. We rely on them to write the articles, author the textbooks, and give the presentations that we absorb to become better dermatologists.” Regardless of the medical specialty, this succinctly addresses the issue and is a standard worth considering.
For references, please visit www.clspectrum.com/references and click on document #270.