Who in medicine influences practices, innovations and care paths?
The Digital Evolution is Coming

There’s a new class of pharmacists, physicians, and technology influencers ditching the podium circuit for the virtual world and taking on traditional key opinion leader roles. They’re the next generation of Digital Opinion Leaders, called DOLs for short, but also connected online leaders (COLs) or key online influencers (KOIs). If you're interested check out The LeapFrog Group, Doximity or watch this YouTube video.

No matter the acronym, though, these social media and digital super-connected medical specialists who were already on the rise to prominence got a boost from the pandemic when the world turned online. The above are a very small sample of the efforts going to the internet to promote, influence and drive adoption of these online services and devices.

Why do DOLs matter? For the same reason that traditional KOLs matter — Pharmacists and physicians are one of the most trusted sources of healthcare information for other physicians, as well as consumers. Eighty-four percent of adults in the US trust pharmacists and doctors most in the healthcare system, only slightly less than the top source, nurses at 85%, according to a study this year from the National Research Opinion Center (NORC) at University of Chicago. Meanwhile, pharma companies were considered only by 34% as trusted industry voices.

Among physicians, 55% said they like to learn about health and healthcare from their peers. When it comes to getting that information online, 60% of doctors follow other pharmacists or doctors on social media channels, which is almost three times more than those who follow traditional KOLs,

And just like traditional KOLs, pharma companies are keen to partner with the new DOLs.

CMI Media Group’s Liz McShea, director of paid social, called it the age of the micro-influencer who may have smaller audiences but are more relevant with specific brand or therapeutic area experience.

“A lot of people only think about KOIs as peer-to-peer. ‘How can I get a pharmacist or physician to tweet about my drug so other physicians will prescribe it?’ is the most common question we get”, she said. “And yes, many pharmacists, physicians do use social media to connect with their peers, but there’s a big growth trajectory of HCPs speaking to consumers, especially since Covid started.” Because of the decrease in socialization and out-bound social tasks, the social medical media has evolved in medicine as a pipeline for product promotion. As we are aware the information from a social source may or may not be accurate. Trustworthy remains lacking compared to face-to-face discussions. The quest for validation of trust remains a great concern as does the appropate targeting of intended recipients.

“Some of us joke that during the pandemic, doctors actually had a little bit of free time for the first time so they learned how to use TikTok and Instagram. But really I think it became a new way to connect, and as they saw their peers catching on, just the right time to get online and get involved.”