Patient opinion leader

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Patient Opinion Leaders (POL), also called patient advocates, are individuals who are well versed in a disease either as sufferers or caretakers of individuals with chronic disorders and share their knowledge on the particular disease with others.

This term is gaining widespread popularity among patients, healthcare providers and even the pharmaceutical industry.[citation needed] This can be either through print media or through online blogs and forums. Individuals who have tested all the options in a particular disease and have a flair for writing along with enough computer knowledge become the leaders in providing information about the disease and the outcomes of the treatment options. Such POLs have significant influence on the other readers who are either suffering from a disease or taking care of a diseased individual.[citation needed]


Internet social groups and online forums are becoming widely popular for gaining and spreading knowledge about various aspects of science, day-to-day activities, entertainment and medicine. The impact on the medical and pharmaceutical fields has been significant with more and more people looking into online resources for solutions related to various disorders ranging from the common cold to cancer. The opinions obtained from online resources impact the medications chosen, the type of treatment opted for, the healthcare provider they visit and many other related aspects. Patients who suffer from chronic disorders who have undergone a wide variety of treatments often share their experiences over the internet. Patients who have newly been diagnosed tend to look to chronic sufferers for advice on treatment options. There are innumerable websites and social communities on the internet that allow people to discuss their symptoms and questions with others.

Key roles[edit]

  • Providing information about disorders from a patient's viewpoint
  • Offering recognition and emotional support to other patients
  • Offering guidance about treatment options, healthcare providers, hospitals and clinics, and even insurance

A systemic review by Doumit et al. (2011) concluded that opinion leaders are individuals who are likeable, trustworthy and influential. Such POLs can have an influence on the health care providers and may help persuade them to use evidence-based therapies or medications in the management of other patients.[1]

Internet use for health information[edit]

A survey conducted by iCrossing, a digital marketing company in December 2007 reported that digital media does play a vital role in many aspects of the healthcare industry. It was noted that healthcare consumers look to online social media to obtain information and share experiences with fellow consumers on topics that directly affect their healthcare choices. The survey reported that 59% of adults used online resources to obtain health and wellness information at that time.[2]

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Sources used to get health and wellness information

Women look to their physicians for information to a far greater extent than men do (61 to 48 percent). However, women are also more likely than men to consult Internet resources and use a wider variety of resources to manage their health.

The information about the sources people look for while making decisions on prescription medications clearly shows the influence of digital media and other sufferers or patient groups.

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Importance of sources influencing prescription medication decision

About 47% percent of individuals considered someone else suffering from the same condition as having a very important role in making decisions about prescription medications. Another 45% stated that the role of support groups or disease associations was very important. Nevertheless the physician shares the highest regard as 58% of the individuals suggested that a physician had an extremely important role in choosing prescription medications.

With the size of the internet-savvy population increasing, the number of individuals looking at the internet as a primary source for gathering first hand information about any type of query they have is also on the rise. Healthcare options are widely being tested across social groups and patient opinion leaders are playing a key role in the treatment options being chosen by other people. About 23% of the individuals in the study surfed the internet more than twice a week for healthcare-related information.

The patient opinion leaders can have a significant role in influencing healthcare options chosen by other sufferers. Such POLs have witnessed or suffered the symptoms of the disease and realised the outcomes of various treatment options personally and can impress their views onto other sufferers or caretakers.

The POLs may be seen as an alternative mode of marketing of pharmaceutical products by providing information about drugs and their outcomes. However, the role of doctors and other healthcare providers still remains a vital part of prescription patterns and greatly influences the consumption of prescribed medications. Nevertheless, patient groups led by POLS can have a significant effect on the therapies being chosen and the medications being prescribed or consumed.


Patient opinion leader (POL) refers to an individual who is well versed about his/her disorder and can influence the decision making of other sufferers with his/her writing. With internet being available at a very low cost and with the number of computer literate people on the rise, POLs are being viewed as a new source for marketing in the pharmaceutical industry. Marketing has reached new avenues and pharma companies are also looking out for newer, faster and catchy approaches that can boost their sales. POLs may be a promising option for the pharma companies in the net-savvy world.

The patient opinion leaders can be sufferers of some chronic illnesses or may be caregivers who have gone through a lot during the course of the illness. There is an old saying which states that a chronic sufferer offers better advice than a new doctor. The saying holds so much true in the present world where information technology has reached every nook and corner of the world. Numerous blogs written by individuals considered as POLs are visited by thousands of people who are either suffering from similar disorders or are caring for their near and dear ones.

One of the blogger considered to lead in this turf is Kerri Morrone Sparling, the author of the blog called Six Until Me. Considered as one of the popular diabetes blog, it attracts about 50,000 visitors per month. Readers of this blog often ask Kerri for her opinion and advice about the treatments they are undergoing or about to undergo. The influence of such authors on their readers is immense. The POLs such as Kerri offer advice about various aspects of treatment that ranges from choosing a healthcare provider to the type of tablet to be consumed.

Numerous patients and caregivers who have the knowledge of internet and can access them easily often look for opinions or reviews about a treatment option being offered to them as the best one. Such individuals are not satisfied with the explanation provided to them by their doctors, nurses or pharmacists and look for a true account about the outcome of the treatment or drug from an individual who is undergoing a similar treatment. Patient reviews are sought more commonly than drug reviews provided by the pharma companies.

The survey conducted by iCrossing, a digital marketing company in the US has been used as a landmark among the pharma marketing circles for promoting internet marketing.[2]

The survey has revealed the importance of the POLs in the modern world. Although physicians are the most reliable source of information about medications and treatment options, almost 63% of the individuals surveyed reported that other individuals suffering from similar disorders had a major role in the decision making about prescription medications.

These results reflect the impact of the POLs on the innumerable patients who are consuming or will be consuming medications or drugs to treat the disorder they are suffering from.

With the advent of blogs and forums individuals suffering from chronic disorders had found a way to share their experience and vent their anger or frustrations about the things that go wrong during treatment. What started as a personal space is now becoming a commercial window for marketing purposes. The iCrossing survey further revealed that about 60% of all the individuals surveyed considered internet resources (such as blogs, forums, websites) for obtaining information about various disorders and treatment options. About 23% of all these individuals surfed through the internet for health-related information more than 2 times in a week. These percentages reflect the tip of the iceberg as the survey had included only about 1,084 individuals in the US.

  • Providing drug reviews
  • Promoting the drug directly
  • Influencing their readers about the treatment options
  • Provide a feed back to the pharma companies about the drugs such as pricing, packaging, adverse effects and availability in local stores

While the POLs can be considered as a newer approach for marketing drugs there are few hitches that may affect this strategy. These can include:

  • Existing rules and guidelines about direct marketing of drugs in the country or state may oppose this method.
  • Doctors and other healthcare providers are still considered as the most reliable sources of information, working in collaboration with POLs may be difficult.
  • Most of the POLs offer advise based on the true accounts they have faced and can demand evidence for promoting a new drug.
  • POLs must be showed that they are cared and the health of these POLs and their fellow bloggers, other innumerable users is the main concern of the pharmaceutical companies before they promote a drug.
  • POLs may fade out soon if the internet users begin to realise that POLs are being used as a marketing technique.
  • False implications about being a POL may need the pharma companies to invest first on identifying the credibility of the POL before hiring the POL.

The patient opinion leaders can be considered as a new way of promoting the use of different drugs. The areas of concern would be the local laws about marketing and collaborations between the POLs and healthcare providers. Further, the long-term survival of this method would depend majorly on the ability of the POLs to keep consumers glued to their blogs without being identified as a marketing agent.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Flodgren G, Parmelli E, Doumit G, Gattellari M, O'Brien MA, Grimshaw J, Eccles MP (Aug 2011). Eccles, Martin P, ed. "Local opinion leaders: effects on professional practice and health care outcomes". Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 8 (8): CD000125. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000125.pub4. PMID 21833939. 
  2. ^ a b "How America searches: health and wellness" (PDF). iCrossing. Jan 2008. Retrieved April 14, 2012. 


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