Should the Term "Key Opinion Leaders" be Replaced?

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Survey reveals pharmaceutical and medical attitudes towards “KOL” terminology.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term key opinion leaders (KOL)? Do you consider it as marketing speak used by the pharmaceutical industry to promote their products?

Findings from a recent online survey, presented at the Medical Affairs Leaders Forum in Berlin, Germany, revealed that 62% of medical experts believe that the term “KOL” should be replaced. The senior medical community expressed concerns that the terminology is often inappropriately used for people who do not necessarily warrant the title.  

The survey, which targeted both senior medical experts and pharmaceutical executives by way of parallel studies and gathered nearly 400 responses from both the United States and Europe, sparked a debate on the use of the KOL terminology.  

Rosie Bougoffa, outreach and engagement specialist at System Analytic, the company that commissioned the research, noted that several pharmaceutical companies are moving away from the term “KOL” in response to the negative connotations from outsiders.  “The aim of our survey was to find out if the term ‘KOL’ was now too toxic for everyday use or still the best tool for the job.” Nonetheless, 40% of pharmaceutical executives have opted to keep the term “KOL,” according to survey results. In the KOL arm of the study, 20% of medical expert respondents chose to stick with the current terminology.


More than half (56%) of pharmaceutical executives participating in the survey were in favour of having a universal replacement of the term “KOL” while more than three quarters (77%) of medical experts involved felt that this was the right thing to do. Despite that, coming up with an alternative term proved to be a challenge, with a total of 24 different suggestions put forward by medical expert respondents. Whereas among the pharmaceutical executives, the most popular replacement term appeared to be “external expert.”

Commenting on the results, Rohit Lal, an oncologist at Guy’s Hospital, London, said, “I think that the issue of KOL terminology is important for many reasons and this research shows what people feel about it from both sides. However, whatever term is used in the future, the most important thing is that it acts as a further catalyst to ensure more transparent ways of working across the industry.”

Source: System Analytic