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The Problem With Qualitative Market Research

Post By Caleb Costa

September 14, 2017

My wife and I recently met a family from our neighborhood and it turns out that both of the parents are physicians. One’s a hospitalist, one’s a specialist in private practice, with 5 to 25 years in practice, board certified, you get the picture. These are target prescribers, right?

We started talking and the complaints they shared about work weren’t the usual ones, like promotions they needed or wanted or didn’t get, difficult bosses, colleagues, or HR issues. Rather, it was about the tedium of their jobs and how little time they actually had to spend with patients because of all the questionnaires and arduous tasks that were necessary after each patient engagement.

When we talked about market research, what I learned was that they saw it as much of the same tedium – and that’s a big problem for us in research.

In all the research and analysis InCrowd has done around how, when, and why (and why not) physician’s take surveys, we’ve found that the most effective lever is to improve the user experience. (Many of us increase honoraria first, but we’ve learned that it is in fact the least effective.)

Let me focus on the impacts of this on qualitative market research.

At InCrowd, we’re constantly analyzing how physicians are engaging with our market reseach platform. After fielding the same question to thousands of respondents over the years, some things have remained constant:

  • About 60% of those who participate in qual either have an interest in or actively participate in qual
  • We lose 40% off the top primarily because they report it being too time-consuming, cumbersome.

Combine this with accounts that there are somewhere between 800,000 and 900,000 prescribing physicians in the United States. The largest healthcare panels we work with have about 675,000, give or take. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that their response rates are in the 2-5 percent range. That means that on any given project, you can access between 13,000 and 33,000 prescribing physicians. After applying screening criteria, your actual target physician pool is very small.

If your user experience – the level of excitement and engagement physicians have in anticipation or while taking your survey is low – then you are going to lose even more physicians.

So how does one build and improve user experience so response rates go up, and so we appeal to the other 95 to 98 percent who aren’t engaging at all?

When we ask about how to improve the process, what physicians say they want is pretty simple: they want easier, more flexible scheduling and shorter interviews.

An actual 8 to 10 week, traditional qual project looks like this:

There’s a lot of repetitive steps, and it’s tedious – but that’s also exactly why it’s ripe for automation and innovation and a more systematic approach to scheduling participants, and gathering and analyzing data.

The key to doing this in life sciences means that the right degree of service and compliance needs to be built into the technology to ensure that we’re not just speeding up a process, but that we’re getting the job done well.

Here are some of the things we’ve learned from years of talking to physicians:
1. One of the more frustrating things for physicians is that they continue to screen out over and over again. We should just know more about our participants and invite them appropriately.
2. Physicians want shorter interviews. On average, the optimal amount of time requested for qual interviews by respondents is between 20 and 25 minutes. This provides them with a broader degree of flexibility but you’ve got to fix your technology so you don’t spend 20 minutes trying to get in. Respondents should be able to select from available times. It should update in real time for everyone involved in the same exercise. Think about this in the form of measuring your projects in days instead of weeks and months.
3. Build a central project management view that updates in real time with user control preferences and push notifications to everyone involved. This means getting rid of that heinous excel spreadsheet that everyone struggles with version control and where I should be at a given moment in time. And automate reminders with the ability in-reminder or in-app for respondents to reschedule if needed so that they’re not having to pick up the phone and manually call back to the agency.
4. Finally, the technology needs to enable double blinded research interaction, but at a new level so moderators have the ability to dial out to participants and bring them into a call without actually knowing the respondent’s phone number. That’s the kicker. It gives you the double whammy of increased privacy and simultaneously the participant doesn’t have to look for old emails, etc.

These are just a few of the recent trends in more automated qual research – and the future of more such automation is bright. Imagine a single moderator being able to conduct interviews in every country without human translators. This will soon be possible with the technology that exists today.

At this juncture, what’s important to remember is that even the most well-designed research methodology will be useless if we can’t find enough physicians to respond. It’s time to start doing qualitative research with user experience in mind. Sustainable and responsible is a win-win for both sides because it’s about engaging your physician customers in the long-term, and doing so on their terms.

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