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Key Opinion Leader Segmentation 101

Prioritization—it’s essential to medicine. Surgeons must decide under intense pressure which actions are most likely to lead to a favorable patient outcome. More generally, clinicians consider risks and resources when counseling patients and conducting research. Everything a doctor does—and does not do—is the result of thoughtful prioritization.

Your Medical Affairs (MA) organization operates no differently. When it comes to Key Opinion Leader (KOL) relationships, you cannot reach everyone. There are always more KOLs than your team has the time and focus to engage. Yes, this is stating the obvious. In any situation where opportunities outnumber hours in the day, prioritization is a must. What does that look like with KOLs?

Every Medical Affairs team uses basic segmentation, classifying KOLs as “global,” “regional,” or “local” influencers. Most consider this good enough, even industry-standard. But do you see the problem? Knowing a KOL’s category does not tell you why you ought to invest resources in building a relationship. It’s Opportunity Cost 101—doing one thing prevents you from doing another. Simplistic segmentation based on geography, the common way KOL segmentation is done, does not enable you to make the right KOL engagement decisions that drive strategic medical objectives.

At Acceleration Point, we teach clients to segment Key Opinion Leaders into five high-priority categories.

Core Medical Experts

These top experts are closest to your organization in that they have engaged with your science—the foundation of your data dissemination and insight generation. They’re opinion leaders who speak at major conferences and participate in studies. Their findings regularly appear in prestigious journals. Consider the example of physician-scientist Dr. Christine M. Albert, an extensively published cardiologist and the founding chair of the Cedars-Sinai Department of Cardiology. Still, Core Medical Experts like Dr. Albert are not only individuals with uniquely deep, relevant knowledge; they also have a direct dependency and a desire to be aware of the most up-to-date science. 

In your relationships with core experts, you have regular access and partnership. These are the core individuals to whom you have access for data dissemination and insight generation. The inverse is also true. Medical Affairs can be one of their trusted information sources, ensuring they’re aware of the latest data in their practice area. In turn, relationships with these experts are themselves Medical Affairs insight generation opportunities. After all, Core Medical Experts are renowned for making seminal clinical and scholarly contributions in their field. Some teams even invite experts to join group steering committees to offer input on that strategy.

Global and National Scientific Experts

These are the top scientific experts in your global or national region based on their publications, presentations, or data generation. They may not be deeply involved with your science and may not even engage directly with most pharmaceutical companies. But they are the experts in their field, often producing science about new treatments. You may not have as much access due to the lack of partnership, but engage them a few times each year.

Research Experts

These experts hold an important role in the medical insight generation process. As an example, Nicole Ebner, Ph.D. is a widely published researcher with over 140 cardiovascular-related presentations and publications. Trusted third parties like Dr. Ebner offer input directly and indirectly to Medical Affairs organizations, ensuring the scientific validity of insights, strategy, and new products. Their data generation and dissemination work often involve non-patient-facing activities such as research. Little to no clinical practice means some Medical Affairs teams choose not to actively engage these experts. At the very least, we recommend monitoring these experts in your medical data-gathering process.

Emerging Experts

Also referred to informally as “rising stars,” these experts are shaping the future science of their practice area. Within three to five years, they will be widely considered national, even global experts. At present, they have only just begun their clinical, operational, academic, and research journey. Often they are mentored by a Key Opinion Leader or another expert. A resident who recently studied under Dr. Hope Rugo would be an Emerging Expert, for example—provided they have already been recognized for furthering understanding in their field. Medical Affairs teams are wise to develop relationships with these future opinion leaders before they reach that status. Through your relationships with these emerging experts, you will learn what rising experts need, how they like to receive data, and what value Medical Affairs will be expected to provide the next generation of scientific leaders. As their schedules fill and responsibilities expand, they will prioritize your relationship because you prioritize them.

Community Medical Leaders

Community leaders have a popular clinical practice and are considered the local expert. You can confirm this in practice through referral patterns. This can be done by looking at claims data or by interviewing local Health Care Practitioners (HCPs) and asking where they refer patients.

Community Medical Leaders don’t often publish, present, or participate in studies. Their clinical expertise alone inspires other local HCPs to turn to them for advice. For this reason, Medical Affairs teams are wise to connect with Community Medical Leaders and learn about the needs and concerns of physicians and patients in their specific community.

Digital Opinion Leaders

Digital Opinion Leaders (DOL) like oncologist Dr. H. Jack West amass highly engaged online followings with whom they discuss topics relevant to their therapeutic area. Dr. West, for example, has over 17,000 Twitter followers, many of who are also medical oncologists. In addition to and often in lieu of delivering presentations and writing for publications, DOLs share their thoughts with their peers quickly and directly from their own platform.

This five-category segmentation strategy enables you to build a broader network of physician-experts who each bring a unique perspective, which results in additional data collection and insight generation opportunities you might not otherwise have if all you sought were global, national, and regional medical experts.

Of the five segments, the DOL is under-engaged, in our experience. For Acceleration Point’s specific recommendations on engaging your therapeutic area’s Key Opinion Leader segments, click here.

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