“You’re not just a paid monkey reading slides”: How key opinion leaders explain and justify their work
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Key opinion leaders (KOLs) are physicians and researchers engaged by pharmaceutical companies, most often to speak to audiences of other physicians. This article provides some background information on the structures of pharmaceutical company influence on and control over KOLs. The primary focus of this article, though, is on KOLs’ explanations and justifications of their paid work for the companies, on the basis of, among other sources, 13 interviews with high-earning KOLs. Among KOLs’ important justifications are ones in terms of the educational value of the talks they give and the benefits gained by patients; these are buttressed by claims about the integrity of the speakers. However, those justifications rarely address pharmaceutical companies’ use of KOLs, or larger issues to do with the general influence that pharmaceutical companies have on medical knowledge.
Keywordskey opinion leaders pharmaceutical industry drug promotion continuing medical education conflict of interest
Research for this article was supported by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (Catalyst Grant #2009-11-02) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (#410-2010-1033). Earlier versions of it were presented at Harvard University, the Université de Montréal and the American Anthropological Association and benefited from discussion with those audiences. In particular, the authors would like to thank Marc Rodwin and the anonymous reviewers for this journal for their thoughtful and careful comments.
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