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Navigating uncharted waters

The changing face of the industry means agencies must be prepared to change tack at any moment
Do you remember the days when the prescriber was king? When the GP or specialist could prescribe whatever he liked based on his clinical judgement and experience? How much simpler was life back then? However, times have changed, and are still changing.

The success of your brand is no longer solely in the hands of the prescriber, but a whole host of influencers. Key stakeholders are not just limited to healthcare professionals and payers; let's not forget the patient who is playing an increasingly important role. In addition, not only is the influencing dynamic different for each brand, but it will vary depending on where the brand sits in the product life cycle, and it will not be standard across any country; due to local and regional variations. And all this at a time when pipelines are diminishing, blockbusters are going off patent and the future lies in bringing niche products successfully to market.

Working together
Agencies and clients need to adapt to this ever-changing landscape. This involves collaboration, flexibility and iteration. Time needs to be spent working together, truly understanding the business issues, making sure that all internal stakeholders' needs are taken into account. The burgeoning of external stakeholders has, in turn, led to a greater variety of internal stakeholders, with potentially differing objectives. Only then can we start to design the optimum research approach.

To ensure that the research provides the guidance needed, we obviously need to talk to the right respondents, even though the key stakeholders may not be clear from the outset. Desk research and close relationships with recruiters can help to unearth who we should be speaking to, but even then the full range of stakeholders may not be evident. It is no good recruiting to title as these vary wildly and titles are rarely indicative of someone's role and sphere of influence.

Using an extended screening process, employing an iterative approach and being flexible in the methods that are used will ensure that we are speaking to the appropriate stakeholders.

New technologies
Identifying and recruiting the right stakeholders is just the start. We can no longer use a 'one-size-will-fit-all' approach to research methods. A face-to-face interview might be the optimum methodology, but how likely is it that commissioners, payers et al are going to agree to this? Luckily we have newer technologies at hand, allowing us to build rapport with respondents without them having to leave their home or office, increasing the chances of participation. And it doesn't end there. Once we have got them we need to engage them; acknowledging their expertise, but also treating them as people, designing research that allows us to access reality rather than just accepting the plausible.

As we are often venturing into uncharted waters, we have to be prepared to change tack if what we find in the early stages of the study, or even at recruitment, challenges the original approach. Continual discussion between the agency and the client at every step is not only vital to ensure that the research delivers what is needed but also this approach is far more rewarding and satisfying for all.

The Author
Dr Caroline Jameson
is managing director at Healthcare Research Worldwide

28th July 2011


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