Planning and Conducting Physician Market Research

Physician Marketing Research Tips to Help You Up Your Survey Game with Healthcare Professionals

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Market Research » Planning and Conducting Physician Market Research


If you are doing marketing research like healthcare surveys and interviews, there is a good chance that one of your key target audiences is physicians. After all, doctors are responsible for most of the decisions made in this field. They also control a tremendous amount of purchasing power, so it makes sense that you will want to understand more thoroughly what they are thinking!


Physician Marketing Research

Realistically speaking however, conducting marketing research focusing on physicians is easier said than done. In addition to the details of study design, execution, and analysis; doctors tend to have hectic schedules. Also, docs are notoriously tricky to woo into participating in online surveys and focus groups. Even once you’ve gathered an audience, healthcare-related market research often comes with additional hurdles along the way.


This article will cover strategies and tips for creating and executing a successful market research plan targeting these healthcare professionals.



Planning Physician Marketing Research


Planning is essential for every market research project. Still, the focus on project management and organization is amplified when dealing with healthcare professionals. Especially doctors, because studies involving doctors are often among the most complex and challenging we’ve conducted.


One reason for this higher degree of difficulty is that physicians tend to be very busy and understandably focused on their patients. Therefore, taking time out of their schedule to participate in a survey to earn some extra rewards is usually not their top priority. Here are a few essential items to consider before conducting a healthcare market research project.



Planning Physician Marketing Research


Planning is essential for every market research project. Still, the focus on project management and organization is amplified when dealing with healthcare professionals. Especially doctors, because studies involving doctors are often among the most complex and challenging we’ve conducted.

One reason for these challenges is physicians tend to be very busy and understandably focused on their patients. Therefore, taking time out of their schedule to participate in a survey to earn some extra rewards is usually not their top priority. Here are a few essential items to consider before conducting a healthcare market research project.

Physician Market Research 3



What are the Best Market Research Incentives for Doctors?


If you’re going to invite physicians to participate in your market research, you should plan to offer them a substantial honorarium for their time. As you may have already anticipated, this research is likely to cost a lot more than the average survey or focus group. Of course, cash is king when incentivizing participants, but sometimes gift cards, lunch for them and their office staff, or donations to a favorite charity can get the job done.


When conducting online research such as online surveys your medical or physician panel provider will include the honorarium suggestion as part of their quote and include it in their CPI ( Cost Per Interview). The same quote method is true for panel providers or specialty recruiters who recruit for online focus groups.



Choosing the Right Methodology when Conducting Research with Physicians


Picking the format for your market research study can be tricky also. If you want honest insights about sensitive subjects, conducting one-on-one interviews may be the way to go. If what you’re after is idea generation through in-depth discussion, a focus group would be more effective. If you’re looking for input from as many doctors as possible, you will probably have the most luck asking them to reply to a survey.


No matter which method you choose, you’ll also have to decide whether you will be hosting your market research in-person or online. Of course, both have advantages, but advances in technology, reduced cost, and social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to the rapid growth of online market research methods.



Considerations when Designing your Physician Survey


Once you have an idea of what you want to learn from your survey, it’s time to start crafting the survey questions you will be using to get those answers. Depending on your data collection strategy, this could mean deciding which questions you want to ask during your focus group or interview or creating a written questionnaire for a survey. Here are a few keys tips to writing practical medical survey questions for nurses, physicians, and other medical professionals.


Avoid biased language
Consider the survey question format
Avoid jargon or ambiguous language
Consider a market research expert
Your data will likely be skewed if your audience can tell which answer you would rather them choose. This applies to both written questions as well as questions asked by a moderator. Here are a list of common questionnaire biases researchers avoid.
For example, if the goal of your research is to generate new ideas, then open-ended questions or questions that provoke discussion are the most effective. However, if your goal is to gather as much data as possible, multiple-choice questions are probably the right choice.
Even when dealing with medical professionals, you want to avoid jargon or ambiguous language as much as possible in your questions. Unclear or misunderstood questions have the potential to skew your data and lead you to the wrong conclusions.
Consider approaching a professional to help design your survey instrument or a game plan for your focus group. Primarily if you have not conducted a survey or focus group in the past, a little assistance from a market research expert can go a long way in helping you avoid common mistakes that can cause delays or worse.



Feasibility Testing for Healthcare Studies


Once you’ve got an idea of what you want to accomplish with your research project, you will want to conduct a detailed feasibility test to ensure that your study will be viable. If there are any flaws in your plan, this is the time to discover them before they become exponentially more costly down the road. This can be testing the questionnaire with a small sample of doctors early on to make sure that the survey is understood by the audience and you are able to gather the data intend to collect.



Qualifying Healthcare and Physician Research Study Participants


Especially if you are going to be spending a lot to attract the right medical professionals to participate in your market research, you’ll want to make sure to do your due diligence.  A short phone conversation (by a recruiter with your participants if you are conducting qualitative research) can go a long way towards validating that they are who they claim to be and are serious about taking part. For surveys, make sure you have a screener that takes the respondent through all the qualifying questions before giving them access to the primary study. Panel providers will provide advanced screening for data they can pre-target like: specialty, region, practice type, etc.



Plan for some Doctors to No-Show


Due to a busy schedule, sudden changes in the condition of their patients, and plain old forgetfulness, doctors tend to be some of the worst offenders when it comes to last-minute cancellations and no-shows. You can compensate for this by overbooking your focus groups or offering more flexible scheduling for interviews. If the physicians you hope to interview are surgeons or on-call ER doctors, expect last-minute hiccups to happen a lot more often.



Sweat the Details


Because of the effort required to convene a panel of physicians for market research, you should consider every possible detail beforehand. Once your participants have arrived, every second counts, and you’ll want to be ready to get the maximum amount of information possible from them.


If you’re meeting in person, you’ll want to make sure the room is suitable for the number of participants, and there is plenty of comfortable seating for everyone involved. If your study is online, it is vital to test the software you will be using. No matter how you will be hosting, I highly recommend you role-play an interview or focus group with colleagues before proceeding with the real thing.



Conducting Physician Market Research


If you’ve done your job well during the planning phase, actually conducting your study or focus group should be easy in comparison. Here are some tips for helping this part of the process go as smoothly as possible.



Moderating a Focus Group With Physicians


Keeping order in a room full of strong personalities and opinions is not always easy, but a good focus group moderator can make things run much more smoothly. It’s the moderator’s responsibility to set the tone and agenda for the group. They should begin by going over some basic ground rules and directing the discussion throughout the event.


It may be the case that one or two participants begin to dominate the conversation. Should this happen, it falls to the moderator to ensure that everyone has a chance to express their opinions and contribute to the discussion without being interrupted.


A focus group moderator should also be mindful to keep their own opinions to themselves, as their position of authority in the group may lead to participants seeking their approval through agreement, potentially skewing the study results.


Physician Market Research 2



Improving your Physician Survey Response Rate


If you’ve sent out surveys expecting a group of doctors to fill them out and return them to you “of their own volition”, you are likely to be somewhat disappointed. This is why communication during the entire process is vital. To maximize your survey’s response rate, you should plan to send a few reminders via phone, email, or text message if possible.


With these reminders, you may want to highlight the incentives you are offering for participating and that their feedback is essential to you. Little touches like calling them by name can go a long way towards making your audience feel enthusiastic about participating. However, avoid the urge to be too friendly. For example, many doctors typically prefer to be referred to by their title and last name. So use “Dr. Smith” versus just their first name.


If your survey or interview is short enough, it may help your response rate to mention the time commitment in your reminder specifically. For example, asking “Do you have time to complete a survey today?” is not as effective as asking, “Do you have 15 minutes to complete a survey today?”


It’s also important to remember that doctors often use their reception staff or office managers as a communication go-between. Friendliness with their staff can go a long way towards meaningful participation from the physician.


When doing physician surveys online your online panel provider would manage the entire survey invitation process including the reminders including when you are recruiting for online qual. This is part of the service which is included in the sample design methodology the panel provides in their deliverables.



Resources for Conducting Physician Surveys


Survey platforms can make a big difference in doing much of the heavy lifting during the fielding of an online survey depending on which platform you choose. Many have built-in features that allow you to make the following list of required actions that specifically improve your ability to connect with healthcare professionals and physicians.


  • Create dynamic survey questions to keep the questionnaire relevant and engaging
  • Personalize the survey to the individual physician
  • Connect with a market research panel provider (or specialty provider)
  • Match or append 3rd party data records to the respondent data like ME number and other practice data.
  • Mail to a custom list and de-dupe against panel sourced completes
  • Have the ability to handle more complex survey designs like conjoint analysis



Reliable Physician Survey Platforms

  • Decipher – by FocusVision
  • Confirmit
  • Qualtrics
  • SurveyGizmo
  • TypeForm



Better Planning Means Better Data


You should have collected all the data you need to analyze and draw valuable conclusions at this stage. Depending on how successful you were at choosing a sample audience and having your participants show up or submit their surveys, some weighting or other adjustments may be required before drawing a conclusion. While these methods can help fill in some gaps, they are no substitute for conducting your research properly to begin with!



Wayne Wong

Wayne Wong



Wayne Wong is Chief Operating Officer at OvationMR, where he heads up global panel operations and services delivery. Wayne as built several Physician Panels in his 15 year career and managed over 1200 healthcare projects. He is a founding member of OvationMR.

OvationMR is a global provider of first-party data for those seeking solutions that require information for informed business decisions.

OvationMR is a leader in delivering insights and reliable results across a variety of industry sectors around the globe consistently for market research professionals and management consultants.