More than 80 percent of physicians hear about new technology and advances from colleagues, according to a survey by Wolters Kluwer Health. Brands wanting to engage in these peer-to-peer conversations are increasingly establishing relationships with COLs, or connected opinion leaders – the social media savvy physicians who have a strong following among their peers.

While consumer brands regularly partner with influencers, the medical industry has been slower to engage with physicians online. Medical influencers must follow not just FTC advertising rules, but also those set by the FDA. Medical companies are more likely to engage key opinion leaders (KOLs) through more traditional activities like serving on advisory boards or speaking on behalf of a company at industry events.  

COLs present a new opportunity for health and medical companies, because they are more likely to be early adopters in their practices and actively engage in social networks and physician discussion groups.

A 2018 survey by Kantar Media found 17 percent of physicians say they are the most influential person in their practice in purchasing decisions. These opinion-leading docs are using new technologies such as telemedicine and web-connected monitoring tools for their patients, participating in online medical discussion groups and using professional social networks like Sermo and Doximity, according to the survey.

How can you identify these connected doctors? Influential physicians typically see at least 100 patients a week, work in an office-based practice, write a blog and speak at a medical meeting, according to the survey. Most are age 45 or older. COLs are more likely than their peers to participate in industry dinner meetings, meet with sales reps, view promotional videos, read printed or emailed newsletters and read print medical journals.

Our Weber Shandwick team has helped health and medical companies across industry segments reach physician audiences. We’ve found a mix of traditional tactics – like medical meeting participation, media outreach, email or events – and digital tactics is often needed to reach busy physicians. COLs are an increasingly valuable partner, especially as the next generation of physicians spends as much time on Twitter or Sermo as they do at conferences.