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KOL Identification

KOL identification and mapping: the ultimate guide (2024 update)

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Opinion Leadership Demystified: Transformational Knowledge For Every Industry in 2024 

KOL identification and mapping: the ultimate guide (2024 update) 

 This ultimate guide will tell you (almost) everything you need to know about KOL identification and mapping.


What is KOL identification and mapping?

Key opinion leader (KOL) identification and mapping is the identification of the most important KOLs in a therapy or disease area.

The person or organization carrying out the identification and mapping will analyze one or many datasets, and this analysis will determine the level of influence of the KOLs.

At the highest level, KOL identification and mapping can reveal not just which KOLs are most influential, but also who influences who, which KOLs are most suitable for certain activities, and who will be the most important KOLs in the future.

David Loshin’s description of business intelligence in his 2003 book, Business Intelligence: The Savvy Manager’s Guide, expresses the value for pharma and other healthcare companies in KOL identification and mapping:

turning data into information and then into knowledge thereby adding substantial value to firm’s decision making processes.”


How do you identify a KOL?

Identifying key opinion leaders (KOLs) is essential for pharmaceutical companies looking to leverage the influence of thought leaders in the healthcare industry. KOL mapping involves profiling experts in a specific therapeutic area to help you achieve your team’s goals for a new drug or clinical trial. By utilizing techniques like citation mapping and kol profiling, you can pinpoint the right KOLs who can guide your pharma team towards success.

Whether you’re in life science or the pharmaceutical industryKOL identification and mapping can provide a quantitative approach to identifying the most influential opinion leaders in the healthcare field. With the help of digital opinion leaders and HCPS, you can identify the ideal KOL for your pharmaceutical brand and achieve your team’s goals more effectively.


What does KOL stand for?

KOL stands for Key Opinion Leader. Key Opinion Leaders are individuals who have a significant influence in a particular field and are considered experts by their peers. KOLs play a crucial role in the pharma industry as they help identify the right KOLs to engage with for collaborations and endorsements. KOL mapping and KOL identification involve identifying these influential individuals through a quantitative approach. Pharma companies can use a KOL mapping solution as a guide to effectively manage their KOL engagement strategy and build strong relationships with key opinion leaders. By utilizing resources such as Pubmed and analyzing the digital presence of health care professionals and influencershealthcare and life sciences companies can successfully identify KOLs in their respective fields.

What is a KOL in pharma?

Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) in the pharma industry play a crucial role in guiding pharma KOL management strategies. A right KOL can influence the development process of a new drug or device through their expertise and connections within the medical community. The Guide to KOL mapping is a quantitative approach to KOL identification that helps identify key opinion leaders in specific therapeutic areas. By attending important medical congresses and engaging with healthcare professionals (HCPs)pharma KOL mapping is able to spot potential key opinion leaders who could become effective KOLs in the future. Also known as digital opinion leaders, these individuals can provide valuable insights during the drug development process. Having the right key opinion leader on board can significantly improve KOL satisfaction and enhance the overall success of a pharma company.


Why is KOL identification and mapping important?

Because of their influence and because of the insight they can offer, it is vital that industry works with KOLs.

But to that they need to know who they are, and what insight they can offer, and this is where KOL identification comes in.

1. Human decision-making is irrational.

Countless studies have demonstrated that innovations require not just strong evidence but also the endorsement of KOLs to be adopted.

If KOLs do not endorse pharma products, they are unlikely to be adopted, no matter how strong the scientific data is for them.

Without the support of KOLs, beneficial products supported by strong clinical data won’t find their way to the patients that need them.

2. Pharma requires KOL expertise for activities

Many activities carried out by healthcare companies require the expertise of KOLs from outside their organization.

Carrying out clinical trials, interpreting trial data, creating educational materials, presenting product data are some of the activities that companies need KOLs to help them with.

3. KOL knowledge

To develop and deliver products that improve patient care, pharma companies rely on the knowledge of KOLs about unmet medical needs, how products will be used in clinical practice and which patients they will be suitable for.


KOL identification reveals who these KOLs are

At its most simple level, healthcare companies need to know who the KOLs are, to access their influence, expertise, and knowledge.

If they don’t know who these KOLs are, they will be lost.


KOL mapping and the importance of data and insight in decision-making

However, KOL identification and mapping moves far beyond simply identifying who KOLs are.

At its best, it provides information and insight that can transform your business through improved decision-making.

There is a multiplier effect derived from KOL identification and mapping through insight that leads to better decision-making, where the value of the insight from identification and mapping snowballs:

1. KOL identification and mapping provides the information needed to make better decisions about KOL engagement.

2. Better decisions about KOL engagement lead to more information and insight from KOLs.

3. More information and insight from KOLs lead to better decision making in all aspects of your business, including unmet medical needs, clinical development, and product messaging.

4. And better decision-making leads to better product performance.

7 scaled
The KOL Mapping Multiplier Effect.

The University of Pennsylvania lists five reasons why data and information is important in business, and all of these reasons are relevant in KOL identification and mapping:

  • Gain greater insight into target markets.
  • Enhance decision-making capabilities.
  • Create targeted strategies and marketing campaigns.
  • Improve operational inefficiencies and minimize risk.
  • Identify new product and service opportunities.


What is the difference between KOL identification and mapping?

Sometimes KOL identification is taken to mean only listing who the experts are, whereas KOL mapping can be taken to mean a full understanding of influence in an area, which includes but is not limited to, understanding who the influential people in a network are.

kold identification vs kol mapping scaled

While terms are often used interchangeably when discussing the area, I do think this idea, of the difference between a list of KOLs and a thorough understanding of a therapy area, is a useful one.


KOL identification is knowing the most influential KOLs

We have previously listed the reasons healthcare companies need to engage with KOLs:

  • Influence
  • Expertise
  • Information

KOL identification could be said to be something that identifies influence only.

And while an individual KOL’s influence suggests that they have expertise and information, it doesn’t tell you the full story about their expertise and information.

Furthermore, there is more to say about influence than the extent that each KOL has it.


KOL mapping is a complete picture that drives decision-making

KOL mapping can tell you not just who the most influential KOLs are, but the most influential papers, journals, and societies.

KOL mapping can also say not just which KOLs are influential, but who is likely to be influenced by who.

KOL mapping can also deliver insight into how you should work with different KOLs.

Analysing KOL skills and expertise, and matching this to your context and goals, delivers the insight you need to make quick, effective, and correct decisions about who to engage with for which activities.

Finally, KOL mapping can also help guide you to the most efficient way of engaging with KOLs to receive insight that is representative of the therapy area.


What is KOL profiling?

KOL profiling is the information that is provided about an individual KOL through KOL identification and mapping. Sometimes an analysis of opinion leadership in a therapy area can be referred to as KOL identification and profiling.

Ideally, when looking at individual KOLs in a KOL identification and profiling solution, you want to be able to make decisions about which KOLs you should work with, why, and when.

Information that helps you in these decisions could be a KOL’s:

  • Publication history.
  • Positions of influence.
  • Talks and presentations.
  • Awards
  • Reputation with other KOLs.
  • Scientific relationships with others.
  • Institution and country.
  • Specialty
  • Keyword analysis of publications to indicate research interests.
Picture 1
A KOL profile improves your KOL engagement decision-making.


Can I identify KOLs myself?

The sophistication of the data analysis and resulting insight provided from high-level KOL identification and mapping suggests the difficulty in identifying KOLs.

However, there are instances where you can identify KOLs yourself.


Should I identify KOLs myself?

To understand whether you should attempt to identify KOLs yourself, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I need to identify KOLs for a full engagement program, or only for one or two activities?
  • Is this for a well-established therapy area or a niche area?
  • Is influence important? Or just knowledge and expertise?

Simply put, if you want to identify a few experts, in a well-established therapy area, for one or maybe two key activities (such as giving a presentation, or reviewing educational materials), then you can identify KOLs yourself.

If you need to identify KOLs to carry out a KOL engagement and insight program, then you need an agency-delivered KOL identification and mapping solution.


Can I use AI to identify KOLs?

Don’t use ChatGPT or similar programs to identify KOLs for you.

While AI is a great tool with enormous potential, at the moment it cannot accurately identify KOLs.

Firstly, it identifies KOLs through the online press they have generated and therefore, if it does identify KOLs, it tends to identify those who have won major awards or published popular science books for general readership.

These people are generally either at the end of their careers or have retired, and in the case of authors of popular science books, they are often not the people who other experts respect the most.

More often, ChatGPT simply doesn’t identify KOLs.

When we asked ChatGPT to identify UK-based KOLs in Type-1 diabetes, it gave the following answer:

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ChatGPT response to request for KOLs.

How should I carry out KOL identification myself?

If you only need to identify a few KOLs, and their exact level of influence, expertise and insight is not important, then you can do the following in your KOL identification:

  • A PubMed search that combines the therapy area you are looking for and the country you want the KOL to be from.
  • Browse through the first few pages of results and write down any names that appear twice.
  • For the country you want to identify KOLs from, search for the national societies and guidelines.
  • Write down the names of anyone on the society advisory board, and from the guideline development group.
  • Order this list of names so anybody with more than one mention is at the top.
  • And then use a search engine to check those individuals and if they are suitable for you.


What are the benefits of professional KOL identification and mapping?

Our discussion of the difference between KOL identification and KOL mapping, and our examination of when it is not suitable to identify KOLs yourself, should give us an idea of some of the benefits of an agency KOL identification and mapping solution.

If you are planning a full KOL engagement program, and the benefits of such a program are legion and well-established, then you need to know as much about the KOL landscape as possible.


How does an agency KOL identification and mapping project benefit you?

The overall benefit is the information and insight you need to make the correct decisions about KOL engagement:

  • Certainty that the information you are basing your decisions on is correct.
  • Insight about which KOLs are most influential.
  • Insight about which KOLs you should work with for which activities.
  • Insight about which KOLs to approach for different information.
  • Rationale for each and every KOL interaction.
  • Qualitative insight into a disease area.


Quality of an agency KOL identification and mapping

An agency KOL identification and mapping means that the quality of the data, and resulting information and insight, will be much higher.

An agency KOL identification and mapping solution will process, analyze, and test hundreds of thousands of data-points to create an objective deliverable.

The information and insight derived from this cannot be replicated any other way.


What do you need to consider when commissioning a KOL identification and mapping project?

It can be difficult to choose the correct provider when commissioning KOL identification and mapping.

Kendle Healthcare pioneered the basic tools to identify KOLs, but these tools are now well established, and most vendors use them.

However, there can be a huge difference in the variety of datasets used by a company, the skill with which data is analyzed, the company’s ability to translate information into insight you can act on, and the cost.


The three main areas of consideration for a KOL identification and mapping project

The three main areas of consideration for a KOL identification and mapping project are:

6 scaledChoosing a KOL vendor

  • Cost
  • Data and analysis
  • Insight

The following questions won’t be relevant in every instance, but consideration of them should help you come to a decision about whether an agency is right for you.

What questions will help me understand cost?

  • What is the up-front cost?
  • What is the annual cost?
  • How much support is included in that cost, and how prepared will the agency be to respond to information that comes up in the research process?


What questions will help me understand data and analysis?

  • What data is used as a basis for the KOL identification and mapping?
  • Are the datasets varied enough to provide objectivity and validation to the results?
  • To what extent have these datasets been chosen because they are what the company always uses, and to what extent are they chosen to deliver the information and insight you need?
  • Is qualitative data, such as interviews, used?
  • If relevant, what data will be used to identify KOLs who do not traditionally carry out much research, such as family physicians/general practitioners and nurses?
  • To what extent is the agency’s approach tailored to the therapy area you are in, and how you need to work with the KOLs?
  • Does the agency respond to findings from the initial research and analysis to refine their approach?
  • Does the agency work in collaboration with you during the process to refine their approach and findings?
  • How will this vendor approach the identification of KOLs in a therapy area where there isn’t an established scientific community, or in geographic areas where KOLs are harder to identify?


What questions will help me understand what insight will be delivered?

  • Will it be clear who the most influential KOLs will be?
  • Will KOLs be ranked by a single score, or will there be multiple scores to suggest the different types of KOLs you may need to work with?
  • Will KOLs be segmented to illustrate clearly which KOLs will be most suitable for which activities?
  • Will it be clear who KOLs influence?
  • Will contact details and institution of the KOL be checked by the agency, or will any email addresses and institutions suggested by the data be included?
  • How easy will it be for you and your team to make quick decisions based upon the deliverables?
  • Will the agency demonstrate their findings at the end?
  • Will the agency work with you to translate the findings into a plan of action?
  • Will the information help you understand the KOLs are people?


Why is qualitative data important in KOL identification and mapping?

Qualitative data can be sourced through interviews with experts in a therapy area.

Many KOL identification and mapping agencies don’t conduct interviews, perhaps because they are time-consuming and cut into their profits.

However, the benefits of qualitative data are too great to ignore.

5 1 scaledAdvantages of qualitative data.



Key opinion leadership is in many ways subjective.

Qualitative data is important to validate the findings from the quantitative data, ensuring that the finished deliverable is true to the views of experts within it, while still delivering something more.



A KOL identification and mapping project should be a research project, where the process can respond to initial findings.

Qualitative data can often reveal the most important papers, societies, journals and congresses, further refining the analysis of quantitative data.


A different type of knowledge

Interviews can also provide a different type of knowledge and insight with questions crafted to address the insight you want.

This insight can be collated into a report that reveals what KOLs in a network think about current clinical practice and their peers.


What is a network map, and what can it offer to KOL identification and mapping?

A KOL network map is a way of understanding the interactions and relationships between KOLs in a scientific community.

Network mapping is an incredible tool for understanding influence in a network of individuals, and it can potentially transform your engagement.

11A network map of KOLs.


What can a network map tell you?

A network map can tell you about the movement of information and beliefs among a community of people.

We can mistakenly think of scientific discovery and research as individuals or small groups of individuals working on their own. We imagine that the individual working, and the previous published research they have access to, are what is important.

The truth about the interactions between individuals and their importance in the history of science is far more complicated than that.

Analysis of these scientific relationships can offer surprising insights, such as:

  • Whether there are gaps or holes in the network of relationships that are hampering scientific research and discovery.
  • Identifying tight clusters of individuals, who frequently work with each other, and are likely to hold similar beliefs and ideas.
  • Identifying the main individuals within these clusters, brokers, who act as conduits for information in and out.
  • Identifying Invisible Influencers, those who sit outside these tight clusters but act as the bridges that bring information in and out.

1 1Example of brokers in a network map.


How this insight can inform your KOL engagement

There are several important advantages to having a network analysis carried out for you (if the agency doing so understands what the results mean and can explain them to you) that can help you transform patient care.

While often the insight will become very powerful when analysed with knowledge of your context, such as the insight you need from KOLs, the stage your product is at, and how your product fits in with current clinical practice.

The following are examples of how the insight derived from social network analysis:

  • How you can interact with a network to help improve the efficiency of knowledge-sharing within it.
  • Efficiently choosing the KOLs who will give you the most complete understanding of the views of those within the social network.
  • Work with those vital KOLs who shape information and knowledge within a network without necessarily being known by your competitors.


You should now have a better idea of the benefits of KOL identification and mapping.

Hopefully you will feel more confident now when deciding whether you need to identify and map KOLs.

And if you do decide that you need an agency to deliver KOL identification and mapping for you, then you now know how to choose a vendor that can deliver what you want.

About us

At Kendle Healthcare we believe that KOL relationships and engagement can transform market performance. We invest all our energies in helping our clients to do it well.

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Transform your medical affairs and marketing engagement, revealing not just which KOLs you should work with, but also when and how to work with them.

Kendle Healthcare provides KOL identification and mapping that delivers insight according to your precise therapy area, stage in product lifecycle, and strategic aims.

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KOL insight, influence and expertise

Some industry-wide platforms or offerings only provide half the picture - you know who the experts are, but not whether they can really deliver what you need. Because our KOL identification solutions are fully bespoke, you’ll know exactly who to work with, for which activity, and how to engage with them.

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If you rely on the same data as everyone else, you’ll be stuck making the same decision as everyone else. Give yourself a competitive edge through state-of-the-art KOL intelligence, and take the lead in KOL engagement in your area.

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Complete understanding

Because the decisions you make around KOL engagement are driven by more than who the most influential KOLs are, you want to know what the experts think and who influences them.

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What sets Kendle Healthcare apart?
As the pioneers of formal KOL identification, we know exactly what insight you need to succeed.


Over twenty years’ experience delivering the most up-to-date KOL identification and mapping solutions.


Working with you

We work with you throughout the project, so that you shape the insight you’ll receive based on our initial findings.



We’ll help you plan your KOL engagement from the identification, and support you beyond the project timeline and scope.

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