Advances in oncology have revolutionized cancer treatments, contributing to improved outcomes for many cancer patients. Nevertheless, major challenges remain, especially in rural and remote communities. Outside metropolitan areas, patients and providers alike experience difficulty gaining access to quality cancer care. To bridge this gap, medical marketers must focus on the needs of local oncologists.
The process of identifying key opinion leaders (KOLs) typically restricts the search to individuals who demonstrate their authority on a broader, national level. However, marketing companies would benefit significantly from including more local KOLs in their engagement activities. Marketing resources shouldn’t overlook the impact community oncologists have on the actual practice of cancer care.
KOLs in oncology are more connected than other specialties
KOLs in the field of oncology are more connected with one another than any other medical community. In fact, KOL engagement in the area of cancer care is critical, because most physicians prefer hearing about the newest clinical information through other medical experts. Understanding the oncology community—on both a national and a local level—and the distinct relationship it holds with KOLs can help inform better physician engagement strategies.
With new clinical data published every day on the topic of cancer, the number of biomarkers and tumor types alone make it impossible for a single oncologist to filter information relevant to their practice. Oncologists depend on their connections to specialists to provide them the data on new drug therapies for particular types of cancer. Expanding your KOL network to include local oncologists is critical to gaining access to other community practitioners.
It is particularly important for pharma companies to recognize and be conscious of the incredible connectivity of the oncologist community. Many companies have started to enlist medical science liaisons whose primary focus is creating relationships with this group. It’s their job to understand specific oncologists’ research interests and align them with appropriate research opportunities.
Oncology KOLs are first to adopt new drugs
Thought leaders practicing oncology are often the first adopters of new drug therapies. Most KOLs specialize in certain kinds of cancer, so they might see a great number more patients than general oncologists. These KOLs often participate in the clinical trials of specific therapies, and therefore have special insights on certain approaches to treatment. At a recent summit hosted by Cardinal Health Specialty Solutions, 156 community oncologists were surveyed, and 60% said that national KOLs have a significant impact on their treatment behaviors.
Pharma companies should include local oncologists in the design of clinical trials and other programs, as community-based research is increasingly important in the development of new cancer therapies. Working with a specific population of patients—for whom national trials are out of reach—puts a local oncologist in a position to look at the potential of how a certain drug or molecule might work for different indications or in combination to treat a previously untested tumor type.
These community-based oncologists are more apt to experiment within the limits of the label of the available products, creating an important opportunity for pharma companies to extend the life cycle of a number of pharmaceutical products. Of course, many KOLs who have acted as leads on clinical trials can use their positions to change the standard of cancer care, which is further sustained through their professional networks.
Better cancer care is needed closer to home
Besides affecting the specific treatment behaviors of local oncologists, KOLs in the field can also be core coverage influencers. These medical experts advocate for access and expanded coverage for cancer patients. Oncology is thought to be unique in that reimbursement thresholds established by insurance companies are actually driven by KOLs rather than a US Food and Drug Administration approval system.
Whether it’s about sharing complex treatment information needed for making decisions or establishing better access to care for patients, pharma companies need community-based oncologists in order to engage more productively with local practices. Matching a demand for better-integrated cancer resources close to home for patients, local oncologists are becoming significant contributors in shaping the future of cancer care.