Market research is commonly used for consumer packaged goods products, new technology products (especially apps right now), and it’s often employed to gauge the effectiveness of service-based companies. Using techniques that include in-depth interviews, focus groups, and ethnographic studies (including online, mobile, and in-person), market researchers are able to understand how people use products, ideate ways to improve products, and fill in gaps in service and delivery.
The healthcare industry provides both services and products, yet market research is not often enough a priority for both healthcare providers and companies that develop products and technology for healthcare.
Which is too bad.
The healthcare industry – at its fundamental level – is about serving people and providing care. People are the heart of the end services, and the best, most proven way to understand people is by talking to people – using qualitative market research methodologies. Many hospitals and healthcare technology companies employ surveys, but surveys alone simply aren’t enough to get at the core of how people look for healthcare providers, what people experience while receiving care, and how healthcare products and technology are used and work.
Here are a few techniques that we employ in the healthcare setting to conduct people-to-people market research.
In-depth interviews in healthcare settings
In-depth interviews are one of the more popular market research methodologies used in the healthcare field. Instead of interviewing people in a group setting, as we do in focus groups, in-depth interviews are one-on-one interviews, either in-person or over the phone. They can last anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour, and they allow the researcher to go into more detail with a single participant, while protecting the person’s privacy. Due to the sensitive nature of health topics, in-depth interviews are a great format to speak to people confidentially and get their opinions on healthcare topics, ranging from how they use services, to details about their health concerns. In a typical study, we will interview anywhere from 10-50 participants.
Ethnographic research in healthcare settings
Ethnographic research is another common methodology used in the healthcare field. Ethnographic research can be done in-person, or by employing mobile and online tools. Adapted from anthropology and sociology, ethnographies are “field” studies that rely on observation and interviews so that we can see how people use products, interact with technology, and seek out and use services. Because of the observational nature, the field researcher is able to record actions as well as participant feedback. It’s a more reliable method than recall – as people’s memories tend not to be highly accurate when recalling past events. For some studies, we may even combine customer journey mapping, where we observe how people use a healthcare provider’s website, for example, in conjunction with how people seek out services from providers using other means, such as phone referrals or asking friends and family members about healthcare concerns.
Focus groups in healthcare settings
The third market research methodology we use in healthcare settings is focus groups. Focus groups are particularly useful in the new product-creation stage. For example, if a healthcare technology or product company is seeking ideas from consumers (either B2B or B2C) about what to incorporate into a product or service, the group-brainstorming format of focus groups leads to ideation and input that we couldn’t otherwise tease out from individual interviews alone. Often, we’ll do a hybrid study using focus groups and ethnography studies, allowing us to observe people in their natural settings, and then bring a group together to further brainstorm product and service development ideas.
In “people-centered” industries, market research is a must
As the healthcare industry becomes more specialized, streamlined, and consolidated, companies are increasingly looking for ways to improve service and add tailored-products. Market research – qualitative market research – relies on person-to-person interview and observation techniques, making it the most effective way to understand how people use and consume products and services.