Demystifying DOLs and their role in the pharma industry

Sales & Marketing
Digital Opinion Leaders

In the pharma industry, key opinion leaders (KOLs) can significantly influence the consumer purchasing decision, as they have invested time and research to be recognised by their peers as experts in the field.

KOLs contribute to the awareness and adoption of a new drug and their opinions impact both sales and revenue for brands. KOLs in the pharmaceutical industry are HCPs (healthcare professionals) with a high level of recognition and respect as medical experts who impact everything from drug manufacturing to final product launch.

In the post pandemic world, with the evolution of technology, a new type of KOL has emerged called Digital Opinion Leaders. DOLs post, review, comment, create, and share content across social media channels. Unlike the traditional KOL, DOL has mastered the art of scientific communication in a digital world and is considered the new breed of influencer.

Pharmaceutical companies often collaborate with DOLs to help promote their products and engage with key stakeholders, including patients, healthcare professionals, and policymakers. DOLs may be involved in clinical trials, advisory boards, and educational initiatives, where they can share their insights and experiences with a wider audience.

Three steps to identify DOLs include: 

  • Map the online community of interest – Mapping the online community is the first step in identifying relevant DOLs. For instance, in a disease afflicted area, the online community may have engaged in discussion around the disease state. This engagement would then result in social graphs that play a significant role in leveraging the community. In many cases, pharma brand projects fail by neglecting to understand the online community. 
  • Segment stakeholder – It is important to identify a customer who is relevant in the pharma sector, both from a regulatory and planning perspective. Influencer tools tends to measure the impact the DOL has on the audience. However, without benefit of the DOL’s background and knowledge in the field, data from an influencer tool could be misinterpreted. Proper segmentation of the stakeholder can help immensely in effective implementation and successful completion of the strategy.
  • Profile and prioritise influencers – A DOL may be influential, regardless of the number of followers that they have. The relevancy of the followers and the information that the DOL shares may be more impactful even with fewer followers. The key here is to seek DOLs with interest that aligns to organisational objectives. For example, in the case of an innovative new pharmaceutical drug launch, DOLs with a track record of contributing content around new therapies in the relevant disease state would be potential targets. At this stage, detailed profiles of selected DOLs, describing specific topics of interest, preferred channel of engagement, and area of expertise should be generated to measure the desirable results. 

As digital pioneers in the pharma industry, DOLs are already tech-savvy and familiar with virtual meetings and events. DOLs play a vital role in the pharma industry, as they help disseminate information about new drugs, treatments, and medical technologies to a broader audience. They also provide valuable feedback on the efficacy and safety of existing medications, which can help improve patient outcomes and inform clinical decision-making. 

Instead of having them sit for a prolonged period of time, the following measures can be taken into consideration for engagement: 

  • Online advisory board - A pharmaceutical brand may establish an advisory board made up of KOLs, DOLs, and other well-known authorities in the sector. It would function as a forum where people can converse and express their views. The other forum members would be encouraged to adopt a forward-thinking and innovative mindset through the moderation and contribution of the DOL, creating more receptivity to new ideas.
  • Medical education and knowledge dissemination – The forum facilitates the exchange of information, viewpoints, and ideas. A small group of DOLs can create podcasts and webinars aimed at educating doctors on drug development and related subjects. Such initiatives may help find unanswered questions, unmet needs, or areas that require more study and drive social awareness. These podcasts and webinars could be a medium for pharmaceutical marketers to engage with DOLs and share their perspectives. 


There has been a paradigm shift in the way pharmaceutical marketers engage with key stakeholders. The pandemic has catalysed this shift from a traditional way of work in person to a more digitally connected process. While traditionally there have been KOLs, now the DOL has become a crucial stakeholder for pharma marketers to successfully engage with their audience effectively and efficiently. For medical representatives looking to develop relationships with experts, in-person interactions will always be valuable. However, DOLs are excellent at facilitating or leading online conversations, they are natural leaders due to their knowledge of online settings, and conversations leading to better results. Regardless of the medium, expert opinion will always be sought after and their views will hold value for consumers.

About the author

Dr Harshit JainDr Harshit Jain is the founder and CEO of Doceree, a global network of physician-only platforms for programmatic marketing. A healthcare innovator, Dr Jain was recognised with an Elite 2020 Disrupter Award by premier global PM360 Magazine for his venture. Besides being a qualified physician – an MD from Chicago’s Northwestern University - Dr Jain holds an executive MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow.