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Replace The Term Key Opinion Leader Say International Medical Experts

Replace The Term Key Opinion Leader Say International Medical Experts


Nearly two-thirds (62%) of medical experts believe the pharmaceutical industry should replace the term Key Opinion Leader (KOL)1 – according to the results of a new international survey presented by on 27th February, at the Medical Affairs Leaders Forum in Berlin, Germany.

The recommendation follows concerns by the senior medical community (who participated in the research) that the term ‘KOL’ is too ‘closely associated with the world of marketing’ and is often ‘used inappropriately’ for people who do not necessarily warrant the title.

The online survey, which is the first to throw a spotlight on the KOL terminology debate, targeted both senior medical experts and pharmaceutical executives by way of parallel studies. The surveys attracted nearly 400 responses across both the US and Europe.

“Several pharmaceutical companies are now moving away from the term ‘KOL’ as a response to the negative commentary from outside the industry,” says Rosie Bougoffa, outreach and engagement specialist at System Analytic, the company which commissioned the research.  “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.”

However, despite the negative connotations, when questioned 40% of pharmaceutical executives who participated in the survey opted to keep the name ‘KOL’. This figure compares with just 20% of medical expert respondents in the KOL arm of the study.

“As well as finding out what KOLs and pharmaceutical executives think of the current terminology, we also wanted to ascertain whether the pharmaceutical industry and the medical community should work toward using one universal replacement for the term ‘KOL’?” adds Rosie Bougoffa.

Just over half (56%) of pharmaceutical executives who took part in the survey said that industry should work towards a universal replacement of the term ‘KOL’ – compared to more than three-quarters of medical expert respondents (77%) who stated this should be the case.

The most popular alternative to the term ‘KOL’ among pharmaceutical executives was ‘external expert’, while only 4% of medical respondents appeared to favour this term.  Highest scoring alternatives among medical expert participants included ‘therapeutic area expert’ and ‘expert physician’. However, there was an overall lack of consistency on what exactly they thought the replacement term should be – with a total of 24 different options being put forward by the medical expert responders.

System Analytic will be working with both medical experts and pharmaceutical executives during the coming months to disseminate and gauge opinion on the survey results.

System Analytic helps pharmaceutical teams to identify, map, and engage with their medical experts and key stakeholders.  Established in 2007, the company works with world’s leading pharmaceutical companies and the world’s leading physicians to help map the clinical landscape. For more information about System Analytic, visit

Note to editors:

For further information, please contact Sanjay Singhvi 020 3051 8250


1 What’s in name? KOL terminology survey, System Analytic Ltd, 2015

Survey methodology:

Field work was undertaken via use of the research tool SurveyGizmo.  Questions were a mix of closed and multiple choice questions, with the option to add comments.  In total, 185 completed responses were received from pharmaceutical executives across 14 different pharmaceutical companies (including big pharma).  46 percent of pharmaceutical respondents were based in the EU and 36 percent in the US.  With regards to KOL and expert respondents, 199 completed responses were analysed in total.  System Analytic only surveyed those physicians who could be deemed genuine experts/KOLs and with whom they had previously worked with.  All responses from both surveys were completely anonymous.

Sanjay Singhvi
System Analytic Limited
Unit 114, The Chandlery, 50 Westminster Bridge Road
London, United Kingdom SE1 7QY
Phone: 020 3051 8250
Registered in England 05670865

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