The Age of “Patient Opinion Leaders”

March 25, 2014
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I am writing this from a conference of pharmaceutical executives meeting in my hometown of Barcelona, Spain. I was a speaker here at the Eye for Pharma conference trying to drive home the point that the pharmaceutical industry (“pharma”) needs to support, without control, ongoing education programs for patients. I hope the message begins to sink in.

I am writing this from a conference of pharmaceutical executives meeting in my hometown of Barcelona, Spain. I was a speaker here at the Eye for Pharma conference trying to drive home the point that the pharmaceutical industry (“pharma”) needs to support, without control, ongoing education programs for patients. I hope the message begins to sink in.

For many years “pharma” has spent billions on educating top physicians and researchers, people they call “key opinion leaders” or “KOLs.” These are the people other doctors listen to for guidance. Now it’s time to recognize an increasing number of patients are leaders too. As you and I seek information for our conditions weekly or even every day, many of us have become quite knowledgeable. We discuss what we learn with our doctors, we tweet, we blog, we chat on Facebook and other sites like HealthUnlocked. Some of us might be seen as “patient opinion leaders” or “POLs.” Others listen to us, including our doctors, as we pose questions and discuss new developments.

Today, with digital communications at lightning speed, the heavily regulated pharma indust1889072_711153825571489_258689135_ory, devoted to bringing new science to market, needs to understand that patients have a thirst for ongoing information as much as doctors do, and it is our lives and quality of life that is on the line. The “industry” needs to provide more support for our communications, communications they don’t control, and often supported by their competitors, too – a good and healthy thing! It may mean a reallocation of resources from what they spend on drug or disease.com websites they own that few people visit because the content remains static and has limited credibility. They may need to move some funds from medical education too. As one speaker here said, patients are now much higher on the “food chain.”

The result of more active and ongoing communications for patients is ultimately better care. It’s been proven time and time again…the right treatments and tests for the right patients at the right time, and with everyone working together.

It seems my talk went over pretty well and my hope is more funds will be allocated to support independent and ongoing programs for patients like what we produce for you at Patient Power. I saw some heads nodding in the audience. Just maybe, besides pouring millions into developing new medical products and discussions among doctors, pharma will increasingly understand that discussions among patients – and among patients and experts in their condition – year round and 24/7 – is important too.

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