How pharma can find the best KOL experts for over-the-counter medications to educate patients

pills, drugs, medication, medicine

pills, drugs, medication, medicine

With the vast number of prescription drugs available, it can be easy to overlook another important segment of the pharmaceutical market: over-the-counter (OTC) medications.

While small compared to the overall $1.2 trillion global pharmaceutical market, it isn’t exactly negligible with an estimated size of $175 billion and a decent compound annual growth rate of 6.7% over the next few years.

Sales of OTC drugs have seen a surge in use during Covid as people shied away from seeing doctors and rescheduled elective surgeries. An additional explanation for this trend is the fact that medical information is now easier to find than ever before and that an increasing number of consumers adopt a “consult Dr. Google and take a more affordable OTC drug” strategy to deal with an array of diseases.

Drugs can make the switch from a prescription drug to an over-the-counter medication, however, these Rx to OTC switches are not particularly common. In the US 5 drugs made the switch between January 1 and October 27, 2020. RX-to-OTC switches are no small feat to pull off successfully as new and different groups of stakeholders need to be engaged and educated.

Pharmaceutical companies selling OTC drugs seek out the help of and collaboration with external experts or Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) just like their colleagues in the Rx divisions. However, in the consumer space the main stakeholders are patients and the external experts need to have the experience and skills to be able to reach that stakeholder group.

External experts in high demand in the OTC space fall into two categories:

  • Treatment leaders with significant experience treating patients with the condition. While experience is critical, another quality is just as important: the physicians need to be excellent communicators with a great presence not just in person but on camera for Zoom calls or social media videos as well. The experts must come across as relatable, approachable and personable. They also must be willing to spend a serious amount of time working with different teams within the pharmaceutical organization to help develop a variety of patient-focused resources.
  • Allied health professionals such as RNs and NPs who generally have more hands-on experience interacting with and counseling patients than physicians and can contribute important insights based on that experience.

An efficient way to create patient-focused educational materials is putting together a strategic group focused on consumers which includes a medical expert, allied health professionals and a primary care physician to develop the strategy as well as the specific assets to support that strategy.

Building an OTC Strategic Group

There is no single set of data that allows you to identify the ideal candidates to develop and implement your patient-centric OTC strategy. To find treatment leaders, claims data can be helpful to identify those who see a large volume of relevant patients. In addition, their involvement with patient advocacy groups and/or in leadership positions at relevant medical societies can show a strong interest in and focus on patients. Open payment data, where available, can provide an overview of the HCP’s other commitments and give an indication of whether the expert has enough bandwidth to engage on a project.

Social media activity with a strong focus on reaching out to and educating patients can provide another piece of the puzzle. Outreach via tweets, in relevant groups on Facebook, informative YouTube videos, educational Instagram or TikTok posts can provide valuable hints not just about an HCPs interest in communicating directly with patients, but also about their style, camera presence and reach. If their posts are widely shared and commented on and if they engage with their followers by answering questions or providing follow-on information, chances are the HCP has a real interest in actively working with patients.

Whether a physician has a great in-person and camera presence can best be assessed by meeting them but a reasonable proxy is to study their camera presence using online resources, including their own posts as well as available recordings from conferences and webinars. Due to Covid and the resulting move to virtual interaction and conferences, many more such resources are now easily available.

Data-Driven Expert Identification

No one data set will provide all of the information. As usual, successful expert mapping depends on pulling together sets of data from different resources and adding observations and insights from meeting the experts.

Pulling data from a variety of disparate databases and collecting them in a searchable system is extremely time consuming. Using a curated database of millions of global HCPs to search, sort and filter experts is a good way to get started, while making sure that the data is current and accurate as well.

The ability to search reliable information and clearly communicate initiatives, will determine whether you’re successful in finding the right experts in the OTC market.

Photo: grThirteen, Getty Images