The growing role of clinical Influencers in product development

Updated on June 3, 2023
A blond medical or scientific researcher or doctor using looking at a clear solution in a laboratory with her Asian female colleague out of focus behind her.

The landscape of the medical technology industry is constantly changing and evolving. With new technologies and digitization, it’s no surprise that the way medical technology products are developed is changing, too. Because developing medical technology is far more complex than developing a traditional consumer product, this process has long included clinicians who understand the clinical need and application. This collaboration usually involves “KOL’s” or “Key Opinion Leaders” and entrepreneurial surgeons to help with developing new technologies. However, with the entry of internet influencer culture, we’re seeing the rise of the clinical influencer in the healthcare space which is creating opportunities for partnership and innovation among medical technology companies in a way that hasn’t previously been seen in our industry.

Traditionally, medical device companies have worked with KOLs based on their standing within surgical societies. They are typically an established clinician of great esteem. The knowledge and recognition they have established throughout their career is sought by the medical device industry to not only help create products but also to help promote them. Their influence was wielded typically at the professional society or networking meetings among their peers and colleagues. Today, with the introduction of clinical influencers into the healthcare and medical technology space, it is important for medical device companies to seek out not only the brightest minds for solving problems but also those who can influence the market in new ways. 

How product development typically works with KOLs

In order to advance medical technology, technologists need surgeons. Surgeons are not just needed to market and purchase technology, but their expertise is also needed to help develop it. It’s increasingly important for inventors to develop a deep understanding of clinical needs before they come up with an invention. KOL’s in healthcare have historically been trusted, well-respected clinicians with expertise and esteem in their given field. They are usually very involved in research studies which give them valuable insight when it comes to product development. Medical device companies find this appealing because they want to work with KOLs who are able to help develop a product, as well as promote it.

Entrepreneurial surgeons apply personal experience to innovation

Product development isn’t always led by industry. Clinicians are on the front lines every day and understand the real challenges they and their patients face. As entrepreneurial surgeons, these talented clinicians are using their specialties to create new solutions and technologies to solve the problems they encounter firsthand. Entrepreneurial surgeons usually either develop a product that they eventually want to be acquired by a medical device company, or they want to work directly with a medical device company to develop a product. Utilizing clinicians in the product development process is valuable because innovation requires understanding not only the interactions between products and patients but also the impact on payors and health systems.  

New opportunities with clinical influencers

Clinical influencers can embody any combination of traits shared by KOLs, entrepreneurial surgeons, or a typical clinician but they’re also engaging and cultivating a large online audience that trusts them and their recommendations. In a social media environment, clinical influencers who have cultivated their own audiences on social media platforms aren’t beholden to the standards of professional groups. These clinical influencers are inciting broader conversations around conditions, diseases and treatments. They might also promote an invention or technique, likely that they’ve created or are involved with, either directly or indirectly on their social platform. Clinical influencers have a unique influence on the market in a way that differs from traditional KOLs and entrepreneurial surgeons. By understanding the unique value of clinical influencers, there could be an opportunity for medical technology companies to work with these individuals in medtech development.

Medical device companies have to work with surgeons to develop products, because surgeons are using the device on a daily basis. The medical device industry will always be different from other consumer industries in this way because most of the time they don’t actually deliver the care and they aren’t connecting with patients, who are ultimately the end user of the product. This is why surgeon relationships with medical device companies will always be central to product development. The part that has changed for product development, is which type of surgeon should your organization engage? KOLs, entrepreneurial surgeons and clinical influencers all bring different approaches to the mix. For companies looking to embrace the entry of the clinical influencer, consider these tips.

  • Engage clinical influencers who are reputable and whose values align with that of your organization.
  • The relationship must be mutually beneficial to your company and the clinical influencer.
  • Understand both your targeted audience and that of the clinical influencer. Engage clinical influencers who have an impact in the market you’re trying to reach.
  • Ensure your messaging is authentic and is in alignment with regulatory requirements for both the clinical influencer and your company. It’s also critical that your messaging connects to your overall brand awareness campaign. 

Over the course of my career in medical technology, I’ve seen the path to becoming a KOL change drastically. Prior to social media, there was really only one marketing avenue for a key opinion leader. It was to be a successful surgeon who was involved in professional societies. Now, with the power of social media, clinicians are able to reach a wider audience beyond professional groups and patients to reach the public much more broadly. This opens up a world of possibilities for clinicians and medical technology companies alike, whether that’s innovating new technologies, partnering with one another, or connecting with potential audiences. Now, it’s up to legacy companies to decide if the potential value that these influencers have in the marketplace could be used to their advantage. 

Tommy Carls is the Vice President of Product Management and Marketing at Proprio a medical device startup
Tommy Carls

Tommy Carls is the Vice President of Product Management and Marketing at Proprio, a medical device startup.