The Tipping Point: How Key Opinion Leaders Can Drive Medical Device Adoption

Innovative medical device companies are developing new products and procedures designed to improve the delivery of healthcare and enhance the quality of patient lives. However, in today's business landscape, the best product is not always the market leader. Often, the difference comes down to how well the product story is told – and who tells it.

Companies must purposefully condition the market to their advantage. When it comes to healthcare marketing, too often companies believe that providers will simply buy when they learn about a new product or a key product feature. They think products speak for themselves, and leave it up to the market to figure out why their product matters. But that's not how successful market adoption works.

The medical community can be a tough crowd to sell to. Impulse buying is not their thing. They are a skeptical, analytical group always on the lookout for more data. These traits are ultimately what distinguish them as good physicians and surgeons. However, this inherent skepticism presents a challenge to medical device companies that wish to communicate the significance of their product, and its practical benefits.

The solution? Partnering with a well-established Key Opinion Leader (KOL) who believes in, and is willing to objectively advocate for your product to their peers is an invaluable resource to driving technology adoption in the healthcare industry.

The Influence of the KOL

Often, physicians are first exposed to new technologies when participating in a clinical trial or being an initial site following a product launch. From a medical device or med tech marketing perspective, this can offer excellent input into the R&D process and influence key messaging. But in order for widespread commercialization to be realized, physicians want to have a positive hands-on experience with new technology and see its benefit (as defined by the new standards of the Affordable Care Act).

Fostering collaborative relationships with well-respected physicians that influence opinion as speakers, authors, and researchers is often a cornerstone of a marketing strategy to build credibility and acceptance within the medical community. A well-informed KOL provides solid, evidenced-based peer education that can translate the science behind product innovation into practical application.

The ideal outcome of a partnership with a KOL is that medical device companies will see faster adoption of their product, while medical professionals will gain insight into the latest technological innovations that could benefit their patients.

Fostering collaborative relationships with well respected physicians that influence opinion as speakers, authors and researchers is often a cornerstone of a marketing strategy to build credibility and acceptance within the medical community.

Guiding the Storyline

If dissemination is defined as the "delivering and receiving of a message," think of requesting the KOL's input as a dry run of how your marketing message will be received by the medical community. Demonstrate how your product will benefit their peers and patients, and request their assistance in fine tuning messaging to highlight the data points and benefits that will resonate most strongly with your audience. This ensures that the message is authentic and all parties involved in the dissemination are comfortable.

The core objective of disseminating the data and outcomes of a medical device or procedure to a particular physician community will only be successful if, from the outset, there is a shared understanding of exactly what it is you want to disseminate and why. Unfortunately, there is plenty of evidence to demonstrate companies' failure to clearly articulate the compelling value of their product to a particular target audience. It is essential, therefore, that you and your KOL have a shared vision and common understanding of what it is you want to disseminate together with a template for sharing the critical information with other physicians.

"Ultimately the physician audience is looking for an impartial and objective KOL," said Nestor de La Cruz-Muñoz, MD FACS, Professor of Clinical Surgery, Chief, Division of Laparoendoscopic and Bariatric Surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "Device companies have to let the data speak for itself. If the presenter or author is neutral to positive, you have to have faith that the technology will be portrayed positively."

Best Practices to Ensure Proper Dissemination of Key Opinion Leaders' Endorsements

The most successful dissemination strategies will be those that actively engage users and deliver the information they want and need. KOL’s insider knowledge of the best dissemination strategies to reach a particular audience is precisely what makes them such valuable resources. While peer-reviewed journal publications are the preferred method of dissemination of clinical data and healthcare economic outcomes for a new medical device, abstracts and podium presentations at society meetings are also valuable dissemination tools.

“One of the most useful tools medical device companies can provide to KOLs are animations to incorporate into podium presentations,” noted Douglas Boyd, MD, Professor of Surgery, Director Robotics and Biosurgery at UC Davis Medical Center. “Ideally, though, it’s not plastered with logos and product promotion. That’s a detractor and brings a physician away from the perception that they are neutral.” 

Dr. de La Cruz-Muñoz added, "If a company wants to support a podium presentation, it's helpful to have access to data outside of my own clinical experience and basic statistical analysis if I don't have that capability."

Medical device companies can also drive market adoption through KOLs by funding CME courses and providing a venue for education. "Of course a company wants to impact people currently in practice, but sharing the knowledge of your product's merits with those still in medical school will begin conditioning the market for more wide-spread adoption," offered Dr. Boyd.

How to Leverage a Speaking Asset to Maximize Physician Reach

Effective thought leadership in healthcare is part science (i.e. good data and strong subject-matter expertise) and part art (i.e. promotion expertise). In today's multimedia-intensive world, it has become a greater challenge than ever to capture and hold an audience's attention. Information delivered via visual and auditory channels will have the greatest impact and retention rate, so make sure to record speaking presentations delivered by your KOL partner if appropriate given the venue. Prior to the speaking engagement, strategize a few assets you can create to support the effective dissemination of strategic information and how you might repurpose this content.

Here are a few ideas:

Keep in Touch (KIT) with your KOLs

Once a KOL is invested in the success of your product, seek to develop a long-term partnership with them. While you may not use their assistance on every product launch, their user feedback and "ear to the ground" insight will continue to be a great asset. To maximize the effectiveness of their input, develop an approach that links almost every aspect of the brand portfolio, from R&D to sales. The KOL partnership should be a principal driver of a company's communication strategy development and delivery.

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