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Discovering the person within the patient: methodologies for patient market research

Patient-centric research is growing in importance in the pharmaceutical industry. It’s not just about the science behind different illnesses and medications; today, it’s equally important to understand the patient experience of what it really means to live with a condition. As patients become more empowered, take greater control of their health and become key decision-makers in their care, it’s vital that their voice is heard. Not only that, but as the pharmaceutical industry becomes more eager to deliver value by enhancing the patient experience, it’s really important that researchers choose methodologies for patient market research that enable them to discover the person within the patient.

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From the patient’s perspective

Patients have a truly unique perspective on living with a disease. They live and breathe their condition every day, and as a result, their viewpoint is often very different from that of the HCPs treating them. This means that by looking at things through their eyes, researchers can unlock in-depth insights that can be invaluable when it comes to delivering next-generation therapies. And that’s not all: the patient’s view is also vital when it comes to pharmaceutical campaigns too. For example, while war imagery is common in cancer care (with cancer as the “enemy” and patients fighting a “battle”), research has shown that patients actually found this language negative. Likewise, compassionate language was found to backfire as well, with terms such as “better quality of life” only serving to remind people with life-limiting conditions of their reduced quantity of life – and it’s this deep level of insight that is only achievable through patient-centric research.

We’ve recently spoken about how best to recruit patients for medical market research, but when it comes down to the research itself, what are the best methodologies for patient market research to discover the person within the patient? Read on to find out;

Tried and tested traditional methods 

Two of the most popular market research methodologies in healthcare market research are focus groups and in-depth interviews. Focus groups are great for patient-centric research as they bring a group of like-minded patients together who are all living with the same condition. These sessions have the benefit of acting as a kind of support group, which can really encourage patients to open up, build a rapport with each other and share their experiences of living with the condition being researched. However, location-based methodologies such as focus groups ultimately always depend on your patients’ ability to travel as well as the geographical restraints that can often impact low-incidence rate studies.

Another common method that is great for uncovering what patients are really thinking and feeling are in-depth interviews. These discussions can take place anywhere, including in clinical practices, on the ward or even during a patient consultation – which means they can provide in-the-moment insight into what patients experience from a clinical perspective when receiving treatment, as well as in an in-home setting (more on that below!). Another popular method that isn’t bound by geographical restrictions and tends to be more cost-effective than in-person methods is telephone interviews. However, over-the-phone methods can sometimes lack a personal touch which is often needed when studying sensitive subject areas in healthcare market research.


The rise of ethnography

Without a doubt, the key to successful patient market research is to see the patients as people, not as statistics or incidence rates; it’s about the people behind the numbers. This is what makes ethnography such a great methodology for patient market research, because it allows researchers to get right to the heart of how patients think, behave and feel in an environment that they are comfortable in.

When it comes to medical market research, researchers are often dealing with sensitive and personal subject matters that mean people can be reluctant to open up and share their thoughts. However, by conducting research in their own home, where they feel relaxed and have everything they need to hand, patients are much more likely to open up.

During an ethnographic study, researchers will completely immerse themselves in the patient’s life. They will also build a strong relationship with the patient, asking them to elaborate on things or personally describe their thoughts and feelings. By doing so, they are giving patients a voice and showing them how important their opinions really are. This often gives an extra layer of insight that might not be achievable in other research methodologies – and as a result, improvements can be made to a number of different products, services and even treatments, all based on the patient’s true perspective.

Market research online communities

If face-to-face studies such as ethnography are too expensive or just aren’t practical due to the feasibility of your medical fieldwork project, another fantastic alternative is online communities. Because they take part online, MROCs are great for researching rare diseases where patients are spread out across the country. They still allow researchers to build a strong rapport with their participants throughout the duration of the community – and patients can also engage with each other and enjoy the support group style setting that we see in focus groups too. All of this means unique and real human insights can come to come to the surface as sensitive issues are discussed, allowing researchers to uncover the true story.

MROCs are also a great way for patients to learn about the latest developments in their therapy area and influence the process themselves, which can empower them and make them feel as if they are making a difference. As well as live discussions, people can also upload pre-recorded footage such as video diaries, which will again encourage them to be less inhibited and more likely to open up, and this mix of tasks also means online communities benefit from really good engagement levels. Finally, because MROCs take place in the comfort of the patient’s home, it means they will be in a setting that is comfortable and adapted to their needs.


Ready to get started? 

Thinking about conducting patient market research as part of your next fieldwork project? Here are a few top tips to get you started:

  • Explain to your patients exactly why you want to research them
  • Confirm the objectives of the research in writing, along with an information sheet answering any questions they have
  • Make sure you’re clear about what they need to do from the beginning to avoid any confusion or nasty surprises on the day
  • Be careful to use language that they understand – these are regular people, not HCPs!
  • The patient should be your priority at all times, so make sure they are comfortable, relaxed, and that you avoid an unnecessary intrusion of their personal space

Want to find out more? At GKA we have over 25 years of experience in recruiting patients for a wide range of studies. Whether central location or in-home, online or face-to-face, there’s nothing we don’t know about methodologies for patient market research so you can capture patient insight. Make sure you read our guide to successful patient fieldwork for more helpful advice.