One of the most important areas of healthcare market research involves the actual study of patients. Certain information can only be obtained by directly asking questions of, or observing them or their caregivers. For example:
- Is their therapy performing as expected?
- Were there any unanticipated issues or concerns?
- At what stage of treatment did they appear?
- Have they been resolved?
The pharmaceutical industry must have an understanding of patient needs, their lives, and how treatments affect them.
Are medications easy to obtain, are dosage instructions clear, are there positive outcomes or negative side effects, are they meeting expectations?
Are patients taking their prescriptions – or being given them by caretakers — as intended?
What do patients think of the manufacturer? Is there loyalty to the company and its products/services?
Understanding the patient journey can create a competitive advantage.
The right research can reveal surprising insights about brands, products and ancillary services (e.g. patient hotline, 24/7 assistance, an informative/educational website) that can lead to improvements in patient care and brand loyalty.
Such deeper insights can greatly assist in formulating a marketing approach that differentiates one’s products and brands, and promotes an improved relationship with patients.
How to conduct patient research
Unlike much research that centers on a company or its products or services, patient research requires that people focus much more on themselves. As such, the topics very often will be quite sensitive and difficult to discuss with others, especially with strangers.
To get patients to reveal their beliefs, attitudes, feelings and motivations regarding their medications, pharmaceutical providers, healthcare professionals or caregivers requires a certain skill.
There are a number of experienced and qualified third party market research firms that can be valuable resources, i.e. they can help to clarify your objectives; recruit appropriate candidates, panels, or support groups for a study; employ a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods, and analyze their findings.
If your company is global, you may want to hire several research firms in different parts of the world. Alternatively, there are companies with multicountry locations and translation capabilities that allow for greater consistency and control over the methods used to collect and present results.
One can use many approaches, alone or in combination, to identify the insights needed to succeed in the marketplace. Below are some of the more common ones.
Personal interviews – These can be conducted in home, at a medical or research facility, by phone, or online (with or without webcams)
Focus groups – Traditionally done in person at a central research facility, such sessions are now also being done online with the use of webcams. It is easy to present products and packages, print and TV ads, website screenshots, and other visual stimuli to a group of users for reactions and discussion. Online groups offer the added benefit of reaching a broader geographic area if there are not enough patients locally, e.g. those with a rare disease.
Diaries – Handwritten into a booklet or survey form, or electronically (e.g. via a mobile device), personal diaries can be used to capture daily, or even hourly activities, emotions, and reactions to a therapy.
Ethnographic studies – Professional researchers visit patients in their residences and observe/ask questions about daily behaviors, attitudes and surrounding environment.
Traditional questionnaires – Paper and pencil, electronic form or telephone surveys can be used to capture basic demographic profiles and other useful background information. Many quantitative responses (e.g. How often do you…? What is your rating of …?) can be analyzed along with qualitative findings to segment respondents into groups.
Wearable technology – This is a fairly new way to automatically collect accurate and complete patient information (i.e. with no error or bias), and will surely become much more common and useful. One can wear a device almost anywhere on their body or imbedded into clothing and utilize sensors to monitor and report such vital signs as blood pressure and exercise (steps taken, pulse, glucose levels) and sleep patterns – all on a 24/7 basis if desired. Data can be sent directly to physicians who can then remotely diagnose specific medical situations.
What to expect
Patient research should provide insights that can help your company in many ways. Here are just a few examples:
Learn how your product compares with its competition on such factors as quality and satisfaction.
Make necessary changes to pricing.
Correct any misperceptions or expectations about the brand or product performance.
Clarify instructions to ensure safety and optimal therapeutic results.
Adjust marketing and advertising messages (not only to patients, but to caregivers, physicians and other healthcare providers).