Over the past couple of decades I’ve had the opportunity to work with many Key Opinion Leaders (KOL’s) during the course of developing medical products***. KOL’s can be a vital part of a product development team. In my experience, some were a pleasure to work with, others, quite frankly, were a pain.
There’s a good summary on selecting KOL’s here. It’s not the whole story, but it’s worth checking out.
He mentions some great tips to sift out the KOL’s from the ‘regular’ folks (it’s important to remember that a person doesn’t have to be a physician to be a KOL):
- Regularly sought out by their colleagues for opinions or advice
- Speak often at regional or national conferences
- Have published articles in a major journal during the past two years
- Consider themselves early adopters of new treatments or procedures
- Help establish protocols for patient care
Also look at:
- The Associations to which the key decision makers belong, as well as the Research Groups that they work with
- The places they deem to be the key referral Treatment Centers
- The Treatment Guidelines/patterns employed by the various physician KOLs, as well as the general protocols that they follow
- The Clinical Trials they have participated in
I would add the following that get at the “intangibles”, and may cause you grief:
1. Does the clinician always seem to talk about money and/or royalties? If so, you may have your hands full. As I once heard a KOL say, “It’s not about the money, it’s about the money.”
2. Is the KOL talking about other ventures, or possibly products he/she wants to develop? This could create friction about product concepts being developed in the future. There could also be ulterior motives to working with you.
3. Is the KOL personable? Does he/she get along with people? There’s enough stress in a product development process without a KOL adding more.
4. Does the KOL act like part of the team or like someone hired for an opinion? Even though laws seem to push you towards the latter, you want the former. The latter knows and often acts like he/she is being paid for opinions. That’s not necessarily a good thing. See #5.
5. Make sure time commitments are spelled out and understood by all parties involved. Yes, KOL’s have their practices, but if they are truly committed to improving healthcare, they’ll understand that getting a new product to market is not clean-cut and predictable. Everyone is short on time.
6. Because KOL’s are usually well published, they are great resources for helping to understand strategic landscapes. That can often be more important to overall success than input on specific product attributes.
7. There are ethical and legal ramifications of using medical doctors as part of a product development process. Be diligent about following the law. You don’t need those types of stresses in your life.
With regards to KOL’s in general, it’s important to realize that designing a product based solely on KOL input is generally not a good idea.
Yes, a KOL may do 1000 procedures a year, but that person won’t use a product the same way as someone who does a 100 procedures, or for that matter, 10 procedures. The majority of people who will use your products are not KOL’s. Most KOL’s work at prestigious institutions and have resources available to them that most people don’t. It’s important to know what the non-KOL’s have available to them. If you design something to accommodate the majority, odds are it’ll work for the KOL.
Remember too that KOL’s are often laser sharp in their focus. If they are great surgeons, don’t ask them about something that a surgical tech is doing during the procedure. Ask the tech.
Better yet, don’t just ask.
Observe what is going on before, during, and after the time when a product is being used. Don’t just trust what people say they do. People (even KOL’s!) often think they are performing an action, and even will tell you they are doing it if you ask them afterwards. If you watch them, they may never do it or do it in a different manner.
Working with KOL’s can be exciting and insightful for all involved parties. Keep these points in mind and it won’t be a drag on time, money and patience.
I’d love to hear your experiences with KOL’s.
***While this is written specifically for medical product development, these guidelines can apply to other industries.