How to improve the marketing research process for today’s health care practitioners

This post first appeared on Quirks.

Seeking a better outcome

Today, there are more advances than ever in the therapies, medicines, equipment, technology and approaches that provide new hope for better patient outcomes. Understanding how health care professionals view these changes and uncovering their patient treatment needs are at the heart of medical marketing research.

In recent years, I’ve seen a number of trends that are changing the research industry itself. Understanding the impact of these trends will improve the survey experience of participants and clients alike.

New challenges

A primary reality of today’s medical marketing research process is that curating and maintaining a high-quality pool of engaged experts has become more challenging.
Of the finite number of health care professionals in the world or a particular country, a relatively small percentage of them are willing and/or interested in participating in market research.

Also, the COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years has impacted health care professionals’ availability. Critical-care pulmonologists, ER doctors and nurses have been slower to respond – for obvious reasons.

There are certain health care professionals (HCPs) who are more heavily called upon for research, oncologists being a prime example. While a primary care physician (PCP) may receive a handful of invitations for research, oncologists may frequently open their in-boxes to a dozen or more e-mails – and that’s just from one panel provider. The truth is, it’s quite common for HCPs interested in market research to sit on multiple panels.

The demand for cancer research, for very good reasons, is ever-increasing. The trouble is that the supply of oncologists is beginning to decline, as the number of physicians going into this specialty is not keeping up with the number who are heading toward retirement. This fact, coupled with the overwhelming number of research invitations at all times, causes this to be a never-ending frustration shared by both health care fieldwork suppliers and their clients.

The way our firm has solved this problem is rather simple: by getting along with our competitors. The vast majority of health care market research projects will require more than one panel. We embrace this idea and not only involve our trusted recruiting partners when scoping out a new study but we are transparent with our clients about which partners we plan on utilizing.

As a client, if you aren’t told who the potential partners are, be sure to ask. That way, you’ll be able to rule out those who are on your blacklist, request a favored partner you’ve had good experiences with or avoid involving a partner you’re requesting a proposal from for the same survey.

Compensation has fallen behind

One of the biggest trends doesn’t get talked about much these days, but it should be. In many instances, survey compensation for HCPs has fallen behind the true fair market value for their time. It’s been a gradual process. Many multi-year studies haven’t updated their budgets annually. When that happens several years in a row, you end up with the same incentive amounts for a study that started years ago. That also can skew the current market rate lower than the actual advance in health care professionals’ prorated income.

The bottom line is that participants who were satisfied with $50 for a 10-minute survey two or three years ago, for example, no longer are. They might be more willing to participate for $60 or $70. That’s not a very large price to pay for ensuring quality survey insights. However, the budget can become a deal-breaker for longer surveys, which may not be attractive to panelists if they don’t reflect a higher rate.

To address this trend, take a look at the project budget. Is it the same as three years ago? If so, recalibrate the compensation levels based on the target health care professionals’ current market value.

Yes, this can be a hard sell to the holders of the purse strings. But the benefits are numerous. Raising incentives encourages more high-quality panelists to participate. People will be engaged faster, which promises speedier data delivery. And, respondents will feel that their time is being more appreciated and valued and so they will be willing to participate in the future.

Don’t be afraid to manage up and push back. Address the elephant in the room that things have changed. It’s important to keep up with the times. Sure, finding a survey company to do the work for the current budget is possible, but how will that affect the outcome? Saving the equivalent of the bump up may not deliver the same quality recipients or the target number of responses.

Ignored, banned or blacklisted

Another trend is casting too wide a net for participants, when you actually want to attract people with very specific qualifications and qualities. Some companies will work from a huge target list, hammering away with constant streams of e-mails until they get ignored, banned or blacklisted.

That’s where a well-vetted panel can help. It’s a specific universe of participants that you already know a lot about. Then, a well-structured screening process can rule out participants early in the process rather than making them go through a long session only to be rejected.

For example, a screener can take a doctor through a short qualifying survey to see how many patients are being treated for certain conditions or with particular approaches and how far along in the treatment process they have gone. More in-depth online surveys can further refine the participants list.

That’s a lot better than screening a broader group and only finding 15-25 percent who qualify and the others just feel frustrated. No one wants to waste a professional’s time, particularly when they have bigger-picture responsibilities to their patients and their practices.

No longer realistic

There’s also been a trend toward shorter time commitments. A 60-minute online survey is no longer a realistic expectation. While a small percentage of people may do them, it’s unlikely that you’ll engage enough to extract meaningful insights.

However, whittling the survey down to 15 or even just 20 minutes makes it easier to digest. Panelists can justify the time, maybe as part of their lunch break.

Remember that survey fatigue usually happens around the 15-to-20-minute mark. Anything longer than that and people start to be a little more robotic in their responses, particularly with open-ended questions. Instead, shorten the survey and put the open-ended questions earlier to encourage a more thoughtful response.

Breaking down surveys into multiple parts is also a good approach. That makes it easier for physicians to go through an online survey in shorter bits of time. If they do 15 minutes here and 15 minutes there, the overall time can really add up without a lot of stress.

This works well with anonymous patient chart audits. Many deeper insights can be gleaned, such as time between diagnosis and treatment, what treatment they have received and where the patient is on the treatment journey. And it may take the respondent only five or 10 minutes to fill out an online form.

Another even faster trend is to invite a small group of vetted physicians – say 20 to 30 – to log into a secure online portal to provide feedback to two or three questions a day over a three- or four-day period. Each participant is anonymous and the approach allows confidential replies. Or, answers can be seen by other panelists who can weigh in on the responses or their own experiences. This can give more nuanced feedback about different methodologies to be mined by the researchers.

Creating better experiences

These various trends offer opportunities for creating better – and even exemplary – survey experiences for panelists and clients alike.

Treat panelists well and you’ll encourage repeat engagement and thoughtful feedback.

  • Know your potential panelists and expertise; use smart screening to choose the best participants.
  • Use cascading screening questions to whittle down the potentials quickly while respecting their time.
  • Pay the current market value for their time if you can or keep the surveys shorter so they can move quickly through different research opportunities.
  • Accommodate their busy schedules with shorter surveys as well as innovative approaches like bulletin boards and multi-section surveys.
  • There are ways to take the stress off clients as well:
  • Be transparent when you recommend the use of partners to reach a target sample size from a small universe. Sharing the proposed partner’s names can avoid awkward conflicts of interest or engagements with partners the clients didn’t think were up to snuff in the past.
  • Encourage compensation budgets that reflect the current market value of panelists.
  • Consider shorter surveys to boost participation and keep compensation costs lower, if necessary.

The medical marketing research industry will certainly change again and again over time. Seeing the opportunities and pitfalls in the trends while innovating solutions will improve the survey experience all around and encourage valuable insights to help the health and well-being of people worldwide.