Landing on “Key Opinion Leaders” (KOLs in industry jargon) to advise you or pioneer your technology into unchartered territories (e.g. humans) is one the most important early decisions an emerging med-tech company confronts. Experienced clinician-researchers can provide incredibly valuable insight into clinical practice and workflow, product design, and data needed to support future adoption by their peers. KOLs often act an extension of your team, and can be critical to the success of the technology and the whole enterprise.
It is easy to be seduced by the first person who says nice things about your brilliant new gadget, but word to the wise: don’t rush into anything, even if it seems to be love at first sight.
A few tips to finding a perfect KOL match:
Passion for the problem addressed by your technology
The most committed KOLs will be the ones who were already striving to improve care for the target patients before your company showed up at the door. The desire to test and evaluate a variety of technologies (not just yours, get used to it!) in a defined disease state establishes credibility within the clinical community not to mention that a little competitive perspective can be very useful in honing your value proposition and competition positioning.
Quick Tip: The time it takes for a KOL to ask for one of your devices so they can start playing with it (hopefully not too soon in real people) is a good indication of passion and engagement.
KOLs are often the “voice” introducing a new product and supporting data to the market of their clinical peers. The power of a respected colleague with a strong speaking presence can never be underestimated. An up-and-comer actively seeking opportunities to gain prominence in the scientific community, can also be valuable as long as the fundamental presence is there.
Quick Tip: If you have an opportunity to preview a prospective KOL’s podium presentation – do it.
KOLs often fill the role of principal investigator (PI), and therefore are among the first clinicians to evaluate technologies in a quasi-“real world” context. Having a solid sense of a potential KOL’s volume of relevant procedures is key; will this person help you meet your clinical trial timelines, or be all talk and no action? Are they funneling patients to six trials simultaneously? At a minimum, knowing these data points will help to establish expectations and enable you to fill in with other high volume sites as necessary.
Quick Tip: Get the real skinny on procedure volumes and competing studies from rank-and-file staff, for example OR managers and study coordinators
A character trait in a KOL that comes in very handy as you travel the long and sometimes pothole-ridden road together is patience. A KOL involved with an emerging med-tech company will need to tolerate rookie mistakes, klugey first-generation devices and an excitable management team with never-ending questions about clinical practice. The KOL also needs to be willing to suppress the desire to embark on a variety of clinical projects beyond the one study that your company can afford.
Quick Tip: Ask peers, colleagues and other industry folks about the prospective KOL’s patience meter – is it set right between mellow and motivated?
With the right dating process and a little luck, you and your KOLs should have a long and happy marriage (probably longer than you think!)