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How to recruit hard-to-reach healthcare market research respondents

It’s no secret that a market research study is only as good as its weakest respondent. After all, your respondents are fundamental to the success of your project and can be the difference between insightful results and fieldwork that falls flat. However, sourcing quality respondents can be difficult even with the most generic of target groups – and as soon as you add the additional criteria that comes with healthcare market research into the mix, recruiting respondents can become even more challenging, especially when dealing with low incidence diseases or healthcare professionals who work in niche areas. In our experience, when it comes recruiting these hard-to-reach respondents, preparation is key. Read on for our top tips on how to be completely prepared, however tricky your target audience;

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Always conduct a feasibility assessment

First things first, before your research begins you’ll need to carry out a feasibility test to get a true idea of how achievable your study really is, how realistic your target audience is and to give you the foundations you need to build a successful medical market research project. Reaching out to HCPs and KOLs can provide you with invaluable info on the number of physicians treating a certain condition or how widely-prescribed a specific drug is in a particular region, whilst NICE is another important resource for identifying who prescribes which drugs and in what scenario – and you could also ask the sponsoring pharma company for data to determine incidence and drug usage rates, too. If you’re wanting to reach out to HCPs, check out the Digital NHS Catalogue for up-to-date data on NHS staff numbers which can help you drill down into how many people are involved in treating a certain condition – and therefore give you an idea of incidence rates and just how realistic your project really is. Additional desk-based research can also help you to identify the centres where the condition treated as well as the top consultants and KOIs in the area.

Make sure you look in the right places

Once your feasibility study is complete, it’s time to start reaching out to your audience. If you are looking to target patients, support groups are a place where patients and family members come together to educate, comfort and give strength to each other when dealing with disease and illness – and patients will be more likely to agree to take part in research if it comes from a source they trust such as a support group or forum. Social media is another great way to reach out to participants: try LinkedIn for HCPs and Facebook for patients – with a big benefit of Facebook being the targeted ads that allow you to be really specific in your criteria and target people based on things such as age, gender, job and location. Referrals are another way to reach high-quality hard-to-reach patients who will most likely fit your necessary criteria, and HCP finders can also help to find valid patients with certain conditions – just make sure you provide them with enough support and information to help them.

carefully craft your inviations to helthcare market reseach respondants

Carefully craft your invitation

It’s not just about where you look for your respondents, though – you also need to think about how you are approaching them too. By providing as much background information as you can about the research, from where it is taking place and why through to the overall objective and what it will help with, you can encourage both patients and physicians to buy into the study and boost those response rates. It’s also a good idea to reach out to your target audience personally where possible – by taking the time to explain the study in detail or sending a personalised email you can reach out to and really engage with high quality respondents. When it comes to niche studies involving a small amount of specialist physicians or patients suffering from a specific illness, you may only need a small sample so you have the luxury of time to add a personal touch to your approach. After all, you might only have one chance to convince them to take part – so make sure it counts!

Allow enough time for recruitment

Recruitment of well-targeted respondents can take between four to six weeks, so make sure you allow enough time to reach out to the people you need – especially if you are dealing with low-incidence rate diseases or other specific criteria. Whether you recruit through HCPs or support groups, online forums or social media, you must always wait for the patient to decide whether or not they want to get involved, so it’s important to allow enough time for them to make that decision. You’ll need to consider timings for other recruitment methods, too: your chosen support group or charity might have certain restrictions in place or could need approval from a higher level, whereas HCP finders might need a few weeks or longer to source the right patient, depending on the criteria – so it’s vital you have time on your side. Be careful to allow enough time for recruiting HCPs, too – their schedules are usually jam-packed so even if you are recruiting via a panel of HCPs who you know are keen to take part in market research, you should still give them plenty of notice so they schedule everything accordingly.

put yourself in healthcare market research respondants shoes

Put yourself in your respondents’ shoes

When it comes to all market research – especially healthcare market research surrounding sensitive subject matters – your participants’ needs should always come first. Firstly, make sure you’re clear about absolutely everything from the beginning: send out patient and HCP information sheets outlining the purpose and benefits of the study, what they have to do, who is organising it and what will happen to the results. Respondents and finders will be more likely to get on board if they know exactly what is expected of them, and they will feel much more comfortable about the entire research process if they clearly understand what is going on and why. You should also make sure you consider all of their needs – if you are recruiting patients with a specific condition, will they need transport? Do they suffer from mobility issues or visual impairments? Can they bring a carer? Taking all these things into consideration will make those suffering from debilitating illnesses more likely to take part.

Make sure your incentive is suitable for the study

It’s pretty standard practice to offer some sort of incentive to thank your participants for their time – and it can really help encourage people to take part, especially time-pushed HCPs and patients who will be volunteering personal and sensitive information. When deciding on your incentive, make sure it matches the difficulty level of recruiting these participants to ensure maximum success – you might need to offer a higher incentive for people suffering from haemophilia in Wales than you would for those suffering from asthma throughout the UK, for example. Good ideas for incentives include a charitable donation to a charity relevant to the therapy area, cash, cheques, shopping vouchers and gift cards, although sometimes the opportunity to take part in research and have their voice heard is appealing enough for those suffering from low incidence diseases who might feel lost and unheard. Whatever incentive you do decide on, though, make sure you adhere to the BHBIA guidelines.

When it comes to recruiting hard-to-reach respondents, it’s important to be organised and have a clear plan of action. If you would like to find out more about how to decide on the feasibility of your healthcare market research project, download our guide.