Opinion leaders are often local individuals with high credibility who can influence other people. Robust effects using opinion leaders in diffusing innovations have been shown in several randomized controlled trials, for example regarding sexually transmitted infections (STI), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention, mammography rates and caesarean birth delivery rates. In a Cochrane review 2010 it was concluded that the use of opinion leaders can successfully promote evidence-based practice. Thus, using opinion leaders within the public health sector might be one means to speed up the dissemination of health promoting and disease preventing innovations. Social network analysis has been used to trace and map networks, with focus on relationships and positions, in widely spread arenas and topics. The purpose of this study was to use social network analysis in order to identify potential opinion leaders at the arena of child health promotion in Sweden.
By using snowball technique a short e-mail question was spread in up to five links, starting from seven initially invited persons. This inquiry resulted in a network consisting of 153 individuals. The most often mentioned actors were researchers, public health officials and paediatricians, or a combination of these professions. Four single individuals were mentioned by five to seven other persons in the network. These individuals obviously possess qualities that make other professionals within the public health sector listen to and trust them.
Social network analysis seemed to be a useful method to identify influential persons with high credibility, i.e. potential opinion leaders, at the arena of child health promotion in Sweden. If genuine opinion leaders could be identified directed measures can be carried out in order to spread new and relevant knowledge. This may facilitate for public health actors at the local, regional and national level to more rapidly progress innovations into everyday practice. However, effectiveness studies of opinion leaders in the public health sector still have to be performed.
Keywords: Network analysis, Opinion leaders, Child health promotion