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Reimagine Thought Leader Identification: Finding Enrollers and Educators


“Identifying top KOLs is easy. Everybody knows who they are.”

While this statement might be a bit controversial, it is still spot on: Everybody knows who the luminaries in a field are. They are well-known, highly visible and their reputation precedes them. They are not hard to find, but very hard to engage because everybody wants a piece of them.

Top KOLs (key opinion leaders) play an important role for pharmaceutical companies but can’t do it all: different tasks require different skills and different types of external experts. Excellent educators might not be the most successful at enrolling patients, and somebody who consistently meets their enrollment targets might freeze up in front of a roomful of people.

Companies need to use tailored approaches to identify external experts, KOLs or thought leaders to make sure the right type of healthcare provider is engaged for each task.

Enroller vs educators: a guide to identification

Let’s get back to our example of “enrollers” — physicians who are superstars when it comes to enrolling patients for clinical trials — and “educators” — those who really shine when asked to break down and explain complex scientific and medical facts to colleagues, payers or patients.

How do the approaches to identify them differ?

Here are three sources of data that are highly relevant when looking for successful enrollers:

  1. A good first filter for high enrollers is claims and specifically referral data. Physicians who see a lot of relevant patients will have access to a larger pool of potential enrollees. Frequent referrals from inside as well as outside their network shows that they enjoy the respect of their colleagues and therefore have an extended network that can assist with enrollment.
  2. Prior experience with clinical trials is a useful criterion. It shows that a physician is familiar with the challenges of recruiting for and conducting a clinical trial.
  3. Payment information, such as the Open Payments Data in the US, is a valuable tool that can be used to include or exclude HCPs. A record of clinical trials shows that the HCP is not only experienced but also open to working with industry partners. However, if their payment history shows that they are currently conducting a clinical trial or otherwise work closely with a competitor in the same indication or therapeutic area, that HCP might not be the ideal candidate.
  4. Payment information can also provide a clue to the HCPs bandwidth: how busy are they with other trials or engagements? If they are too busy they might not be able to focus on enrolling for your trial.

Here are three sources of data that are highly relevant for identifying great educators:

Some people are born to present, they are naturals in front of audiences and cameras. For the rest: experience helps. The 5th keynote address at an important meeting of a medical society is a lot less nerve-wracking than the first and those who bomb their first, second and third keynote address probably won’t be invited back to deliver number 4 and 5. Therefore, looking at a KOL’s history of conference presentations is a highly relevant starting point when searching for gifted educators.

Webinars and virtual conferences can be very helpful in this context, the increasing number of on-demand recordings of conferences are a great way to get a sneak-peek of a KOL’s on camera performance without having to get face time with them.

Personal and on-camera presence are important but not everything. Education is happening through more and different channels. How and with whom KOLs communicate via social media is highly relevant. During the pandemic, a lot of interaction happened via social media and looking at feeds of HCPs who are active and have not just large numbers but highly engaged followers might just lead to the identification of a breakout educational star.

Of course, different roles are not exclusive and siloed. HCPs can be both, great enrollers and great educators. Maybe the fact that they explain the goals, benefits and risks of a clinical trial so well earns them the patients’ trust and gives them an edge at enrolling.

Needed: database plus personal interaction

Every search is different and needs to be performed against the backdrop of the strategic plan and the overarching goals of the organization. While databases like the one H1 has developed make it easy and fast to identify a pool of qualified candidates in every geography, therapeutic area and at every level, personal engagement with the short-listed KOLs remains the most important criterion when making highly consequential decisions about whom to engage.

True, it is easy to find top level KOLs, but — with the right tools — finding experts for every situation does not have to be difficult either!

Kirstan Summers is Director of Strategy & Solutions at H1.

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