Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Gathering opinion leader data for a tailored implementation intervention in secondary healthcare: a randomised trial

Katherine Farley*, Andria Hanbury and Carl Thompson

Author Affiliations

Department of Health Sciences, The University of York, Seebohm Rowntree Building, York YO10 5DD, UK

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2014, 14:38  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-14-38

Published: 10 March 2014



Health professionals’ behaviour is a key component in compliance with evidence-based recommendations. Opinion leaders are an oft-used method of influencing such behaviours in implementation studies, but reliably and cost effectively identifying them is not straightforward. Survey and questionnaire based data collection methods have potential and carefully chosen items can – in theory – both aid identification of opinion leaders and help in the design of an implementation strategy itself. This study compares two methods of identifying opinion leaders for behaviour-change interventions.


Healthcare professionals working in a single UK mental health NHS Foundation Trust were randomly allocated to one of two questionnaires. The first, slightly longer questionnaire, asked for multiple nominations of opinion leaders, with specific information about the nature of the relationship with each nominee. The second, shorter version, asked simply for a list of named “champions” but no more additional information. We compared, using Chi Square statistics, both the questionnaire response rates and the number of health professionals likely to be influenced by the opinion leaders (i.e. the “coverage” rates) for both questionnaire conditions.


Both questionnaire versions had low response rates: only 15% of health professionals named colleagues in the longer questionnaire and 13% in the shorter version. The opinion leaders identified by both methods had a low number of contacts (range of coverage, 2–6 each). There were no significant differences in response rates or coverage between the two identification methods.


The low response and population coverage rates for both questionnaire versions suggest that alternative methods of identifying opinion leaders for implementation studies may be more effective. Future research should seek to identify and evaluate alternative, non-questionnaire based, methods of identifying opinion leaders in order to maximise their potential in organisational behaviour change interventions.