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Guiding decisions

How the ever-changing face of market research continues to impact the healthcare industry

Guiding decisions

Market research is an essential activity for all healthcare companies as it guides decisions in several areas of the business, such as identification of unmet customer needs, development of product portfolio, communication strategies, awareness and utilisation of products, to mention a few.

Market research provides the unbiased, independent voice of the customer to healthcare companies and, therefore, has to follow several regulations, especially with regard to data privacy.

The healthcare industry and market environment are continuously changing, as is the relevance of different stakeholders, which has several implications when conducting market research. This changing environment has an impact on market research activities with regards to target groups as well as methodologies.

Market researchers in companies and agencies always have to be up to date on the newest trends, anticipate the needs of their customers and address them with the best methodologies.

The vision of EphMRA is creating excellence in professional standards and practices to enable healthcare market researchers to become highly valued business partners. The role of the market researcher has changed over the last decade, from a data analyst providing information to a customer and market insight expert providing decision support.

Therefore, there are several trends currently impacting the healthcare industry which market researchers have to be aware of and address appropriately.

For pharmaceutical companies one of these is patient-centricity which is becoming a particularly core strategy as companies are aware that the patient is more and more involved in the decision-making process about healthcare services and prescription drugs. 
Ever more so, patients understand that they have options and are able to use available information as well as experiences from other patients to get the best treatment at a place and cost convenient for them.

A patient-focused approach with a holistic view of the patient, rather than looking at one disease state and its treatment, requires different market research approaches compared to conducting market research with healthcare professionals.

Very often market researchers do not have an understanding of the patient and their role as they do not have direct contact with patients. Market researchers have to provide the patient perspective to the company and recommend patient-oriented strategies to the companies.

Ethnography research
One of the approaches conducted more in recent years is ethnography research. In traditional ethnographic research patients are followed daily for hours during their day-to-day lives and are observed on key topics. Questions are asked within the observed situation to gain a deeper understanding about attitudes and motivation.

Ethnographic studies provide a holistic view of the patients, how a disease is impacting their daily social and professional lives, the interactions between the patients and healthcare professionals and their thoughts about the strengths and weaknesses of treatments.

Ethnographic research provides a wealth of data, but requires a huge commitment of the patients involved and is very time- and cost-intensive. The challenge is to extract what is relevant for the brand strategy out of the wealth of data and interpret it carefully.

New technologies
New technologies will make ethnographic research less cost-intensive and even more observational, eliminating the interviewer influence nearly completely. One of the stand-out technologies is Google glass which allows researchers to see the world through the patient's eyes.

The use of such technology has to be explored, and the first agencies are starting to use it. Additional technology is already available via smart phones. Patients can make audio and video recordings either 'in the moment' or after it, such as after a physician visit.

This leads to another important trend for the future, mobile health - which is the practice of medicine and public health supported by mobile devices.

Mobile health applications include the use of mobile devices in collecting community and clinical health data, delivery of healthcare information to practitioners, researchers and patients, real-time monitoring of patient vital signs, collection of personal health-related data by consumers, including patients, and direct provision of care.

This leads to a huge amount of data which has not previously been available. If patients start to collect data on their lifestyle, disease state, physicians visits, dietary and reasons for decisions it will allow the holistic view of a patient with all healthcare-related aspects which has not been available so far.

Of course, data privacy and security are a concern for many patients which has to be taken into consideration, but there is an understanding of the benefits of sharing data. The challenge will be how to access and analyse this kind of big data and how to derive conclusions for the healthcare industry.

Communication tools will get more interactive and will allow healthcare professionals to receive the information they need when they need it

Mobile health
Mobile health will also change the way healthcare companies are communicating with their customers, especially healthcare professionals and patients.

The various digital channels currently available have different advantages and disadvantages compared to the traditional model of sales representatives visiting healthcare professionals. The communication tools will get more interactive and will allow healthcare professionals to receive the information they need when they need it.

The information provided will develop from general messages on new products, for example, to individualised, customised information. This change will take a decade or two but, it will happen.

Patient-centricity is an important topic and market researchers have to focus on it, but they should be careful not to neglect other stakeholders at the same time. It will be essential for a brand strategy in the future to explore all relevant stakeholders and the interaction between them.

This will increase the complexity in market research and require a fully integrated approach of secondary and primary market research projects.

Data privacy and security
With all the data available and more patient-level data generated by primary market research, the topic of data privacy and security becomes increasingly important.

For Europe, the fundamental right to the protection of personal data is already explicitly recognised in Article 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. There are special regulations around the processing of health data.

Similar regulations exist for other geographies, and this has implications for primary market research as well as for the analysis of patient-level healthcare data.

EphMRA is in continuous contact with the respective authorities to explain the nature of market research and what the objectives data is used for, and to inform its members about changes in regulations in Europe, as well as other major countries, to ensure the companies and agencies are compliant.

When conducting primary market research, companies have to be aware of the regulations around adverse events and product technical complaints reporting. In case an agency conducts primary market research with healthcare professionals or patients, where adverse events or product technical complaints come up during the study, they have to be processed within the company as if they would have been reported to the company itself. And EphMRA keeps its members up to date about changes in these regulations as well.

Several of the topics mentioned above, along with the implications for market research, will be addressed at the EphMRA Business Intelligence/Analysis Conference in Frankfurt, Germany from 21-23 June 2016. For full details visit

Article by
Thomas Hein

is president of EphMRA and global director customer insights and strategy immunodiagnostics at Thermo Fisher Scientific

17th March 2016

Article by
Thomas Hein

is president of EphMRA and global director customer insights and strategy immunodiagnostics at Thermo Fisher Scientific

17th March 2016

From: Marketing



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