Market research is all about understanding your audience and the decisions that they make. So it should come as no surprise that healthcare market research can appear somewhat tricky. After all, the decisions facing doctors and other healthcare professionals are unlike those in any other industry.
Not only are decision-makers in the healthcare industry dealing with matters of life and death, but they also work in one of the most uniquely structured markets, with most of the purchasing power held by intermediaries and very little by the end-user, the patient. This means that conducting market research in the healthcare industry requires more specialized knowledge than most other verticals.
Why Conduct Healthcare Market Research?
No matter your place in the healthcare industry, you can always benefit from a better understanding of the way your customers think and behave.
For instance, if you are a medical provider, you could use the insights gained from a patient survey to improve your marketing. If you sell products and services to medical executives, in-depth interviews could yield invaluable insight into their buying process.
Healthcare market research comes in many forms, but one thing is clear: When it’s done properly, it’s one of the best investments you can make in your business. If you want to make sure your next market research project gets results you can trust, consult the experts at Ovation Market Research.
Planning Your Healthcare Market Research
Planning is the most important step in ensuring that you end up with actionable data after your market research is complete. A mistake that skews your data could lead you and your business in the wrong direction. In the complicated healthcare industry, the importance of thoroughly planning market research is magnified. Here are a few important things to consider before you start asking questions.
Figure Out What You Are Trying to Accomplish
Before you begin to send out surveys or host focus groups, you should first take some time to define your audience and the problems that you hope to solve through your market research. By having well-defined goals before you begin the rest of the process, you’ll be able to be more efficient when planning and executing your study, which can help you to avoid costly errors.
Writing Survey Questions
It may seem simple, but there are many pitfalls to avoid when writing questions for a survey. Biased or ambiguous questions can lead to a lot of time and money wasted without getting any useful data. It’s also important to ensure that the types of questions you will be asking will help you gain insight into the problem you outlined in the previous step. For instance, an open-ended question may help generate many ideas, but the wide variety of responses you’ll receive may be hard to mine for meaningful data.
See our full guide to writing survey questions here.
Healthcare Market Research Audiences
If you let everybody take your survey or join your focus groups, you’re going to end up with nothing but a wasted budget. Especially when looking for specialized medical knowledge, specifically identifying and connecting with the audiences that have the information you need is critical. Here are some of the most common healthcare market research audiences you can access via an online healthcare market research panel.
At the front lines in the medical profession, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers are often the target audience of healthcare market research. Of course, while the insight you can gain from focus groups and surveys with these audiences can be invaluable, be prepared to pay for their time and effort. Participation incentives for medical pros generally need to be much higher compared to the average audience.
Hospital administrators and their counterparts at other medical facilities wield a tremendous amount of buying power in the healthcare industry, convincing them to buy your products or services will require that you gain as much insight as possible into what they want and how they make decisions. One difficulty you may have with this audience is figuring out exactly who to target, as job titles in healthcare administration can be vague, with similar-sounding titles meaning very different things depending on the company.
While the buying power in the healthcare industry is more decentralized than most verticals, medical executives are still a prized audience for market research. This audience can lend particularly valuable insight into the direction that the healthcare industry is moving in. For instance, in 2021, a study showed that 37% of healthcare execs saw digital tools as the most important initiative to tackle their current challenges.
While the end-users of healthcare products may not have the buying power of doctors or hospital executives, insight into the opinions and expectations of patients can still be very helpful, especially for public-facing healthcare businesses like doctor’s offices. The influence of this audience will continue to grow as the healthcare industry becomes more patient-centered and consumers become more informed and active in making their own healthcare decisions.
Primary vs. Secondary Research
One important decision you’ll need to make while planning your healthcare market research is whether to use primary or secondary research methods.
To put it simply, primary research is when you collect the data, and secondary research is when you use data gathered by somebody else.
Primary Healthcare Market Research Techniques
Traditionally hosted in-person, but gaining popularity online, a focus group not only allows you to ask your audience questions but also to provoke discussion. This format allows for more varied insights than most market research techniques, making it ideal for idea generation. In the healthcare industry, focus groups are regularly conducted using both medical professionals and to public.
Example: In 1997, the executive boards of Saginaw General and St. Luke’s Hospitals in Michigan were given a daunting task. Multiple major consulting firms had confirmed that they would serve their community better by merging and combing resources. Because one of the hospitals had a religious name and the other did not, this presented a unique challenge in branding/naming the new hospital without anyone feeling excluded.
To help determine the best name for the new hospital, the board of directors turned to several focus groups. After conducting panels with hospital employees, medical professionals, and the public, the new name was decided: Covenant Health. Once the name was selected, focus groups were also used to help develop branding and corporate identity for the new hospital system.
If you’re looking for information from a small audience with specific knowledge or qualifications. There’s a good chance that conducting in-depth interviews will be the best way to get the data you need. As opposed to a focus group with several respondents discussing with each other, a one-on-one interview allows a deep, focused discussion of the issue at hand. Of course, the additional time required to interview each participant often makes this one of the most complicated types of market research study to organize.
Example: In 2016, KMG Consulting conducted an in-depth study on the patient experience. Instead of just using raw data, researchers sat down with individual patients as well as workers at every step of their healthcare journey. The interviews conducted in this study were unusually open-ended, with respondents asked to tell their own stories before being asked for clarification and to fill in the gaps.
Sometimes it’s possible to gain insight from your audience without them knowing. That’s where observational research comes in. Before the internet, this often meant figuring out creative ways to monitor audience members and their behaviors. This can be particularly difficult to do in the healthcare industry because so much of it takes place behind closed doors and is private.
Now that the Internet allows people to share more information about themselves and their daily lives, new avenues for observational research have emerged, especially in the healthcare industry.
Example: In 2020, Insurance company AXA conducted a wide-ranging observational research study targeting people planning to move to a different country. They found that many expats, especially those originating in countries with socialized medicine, do not understand the importance of making sure they have proper medical coverage before leaving. The goal of the study was to better understand their audience in order to improve their marketing.
Beginning with Google search insights and moving to public discussions on online forums and social media, AXA’s team was able to learn enough to revamp their call scripts, website, and marketing materials with great success. Not only were they able to attract 12% more leads using the improved materials, but they also reduced their cost per lead by 16%.
Conducting a survey online is one of the most cost-effective strategies for healthcare market research. A variety of online platforms make it easy to send out surveys and collect data quickly and easily. Even busy healthcare pros can often find a few minutes in their day to answer a quick survey in their email box.
There are a few drawbacks to using online surveys in healthcare market research, however. The most prominent is that it can be difficult to ensure that the person filling out your survey is the same person that you sent it to. This is particularly worrisome if you are looking for experts with specific medical knowledge and offering large incentives for participating.
Working with a market research expert with access to healthcare professionals from reliable sources is critical to ensuring good outcomes.
Example: Medical practices looking to improve relationships with their customers would be wise to follow the advice provided by Catalyst Healthcare Research’s 2012 online survey of patients. This study found that the most effective improvement in customer service is to provide patients with a printed summary describing their visit before they leave the office. The biggest turn-off to patients while being seen? Doctors that focus on their computer screens instead of making eye contact.
Secondary Healthcare Market Research Techniques
Even if you’re going to be collecting your own data, you’ll probably want to have access to data from previously conducted studies before planning your own research. Thankfully, the healthcare market is rich with great resources, both free and paid, containing data and insights from all verticals.
Some great resources for healthcare market research include medical journals, industry reports, and healthcare provider websites.
A Market Unlike Any Other
Healthcare market research offers the potential for tremendously helpful insights. It’s also a unique field with lots of potential traps. That’s why precise planning and execution of your surveys, focus groups, or in-depth interviews are crucial. To ensure your next healthcare research project goes smoothly and yields results you can trust, schedule a consultation with an expert at OvationMR now.
Jenn Whaley is SVP of Insights Solutions at OvationMR, where she heads up both sales and marketing. She posts regularly on The Standard Ovation.
OvationMR is a global provider of first-party data for those seeking solutions that require information for informed business decisions.
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