Research Partnership

The rise of the healthcare influencer

Influencer culture has well and truly taken over the internet. From food and fashion to gaming and technology, thousands of online influencers all over the world have built up large and active audiences in almost all industries.

In our line of work, there is another type to watch out for – the healthcare influencer. Physicians, patients, and caregivers are all tapping into the power of social media to communicate with one another and increase awareness about certain issues that are important to them. Among their followers, they are seen as trusted authorities and are helping to generate broader conversations about diseases, conditions, and general health and well-being.

There are numerous benefits for pharmaceutical companies in the healthcare influencer space. Working with these individuals not only yields pertinent insights about what they want and need. By listening to their conversations, pharmaceutical companies can leverage the patient perspective in the design, development, and promotion of their products and services, and build authentic one-to-one relationships. There’s just one challenge – healthcare influencers have different profiles compared to traditional Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs).

Physician influencers

HCPs use a wide variety of digital channels to connect with the medical community. According to WHPRMS, almost 60% of doctors use social media for professional use to explore medical information. As a result, it is possible to identify a cohort of qualified and practising physicians who have the ability to communicate to and influence an extensive online HCP and patient community with many thousands and even millions of followers across different platforms. Research Partnership refers to these HCP social media influencers as Key Online Influencers (KOIs).

Patient influencers

As mentioned, healthcare social media influencers are also patients, caregivers, and non-healthcare professional individuals who have attracted a significant audience on social media. Research Partnership refers to them as Patient Online Influencers (POIs).

Developing engagement strategies

There are numerous opportunities and benefits for healthcare companies in the online influencer space, including the ability to tap into the conversations that are generating the greatest impact. These insights can help pharma and healthcare companies adapt their messaging and information sources to cater to unmet needs. Furthermore, there can be opportunities to engage and build relationships with influencers, not only to tap into their knowledge, but utilise their sphere of influence.

The research challenge

When embarking on a project to understand healthcare influencers, a fundamental initial question to ask is – what role do social media channels play in the overall physician and patient landscape? Research Partnership recommends conducting technographic profiling to identify the segments of HCPs and patients that are dependent upon social media versus those that are focused on the offline world.

About the authors


Paul Reed, director for Research Partnership
Paul Reed is a director at Research Partnership, focused on healthcare market research for the past 18 years. In response to the trend of online healthcare influencers, he has been helping pharmaceutical companies identify and understand offline and online influencers and supporting them in the development of engagement strategies. Reed has considerable experience with traditional KOL mapping, as well as integrating the more innovative big data social media analytics.



Basil Feilding, associate director for Research Partnership
Basil Feilding has extensive experience identifying and profiling different influencers for healthcare companies. In the early 2000s, he worked in the US developing a product aimed at helping pharmaceutical companies identify and work with KOLs at the regional level. Since the COVID pandemic, he has brought this experience to help pharmaceutical companies in their identification of and engagement with online influencers.

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