Understanding healthcare market research

Working in the pharmaceutical industry includes frequent use of market research and collaboration with fieldwork agencies like M3 Global Research. The M3 blog spoke to someone working regularly at that interface about how healthcare market research affects their decision making. Read the full interview:


How does market research support the development of a new therapy at each stage (of its development and trials)?

In the pre-launch phase we use market research (MR) to understand the needs of HCPs and patients, and which of those are currently unmet. We then consider whether we can monitor these gaps as part of our clinical trial data collection programme. Additionally, we research patients and allied HCPs to understand if there is an opportunity to build a support programme to better help those living with, caring for those living with, or treating those living with the illnesses we’re researching.

After a new therapy is launched, the need for market research changes. How does it continue to play a role in ensuring the best possible outcomes for patients?

Clearly, we use MR to assess the markets, and then track our penetration, so we can better understand prescribing, patient numbers, effectiveness of advertising and communications and patient types and characteristics. These activities help us see how our medicines are being used outside a trial setting. MR can tell us if there are anomalies in patient characteristics in greater numbers, as individual cases may not look unusual to a busy HCP. It is important to note we are required to report any adverse events (AEs) or product quality complaints (PQCs) through MR, which provides another layer of patient safety.

In addition, we have our own sets of goals and objectives that can only be measured using MR. One important factor in doing this is to anticipate usage so that we can forecast demand and make sure we never run out of medicine, but also whilst considering their “shelf lives” so this process needs to be carefully managed.

As the pharma industry continues to evolve and guidelines in how we interact and promote our medicines become ever more stringent, we use MR to better inform our touchpoints with customers, so that we don’t bombard them with un-necessary promotion. We are not there yet, but we hope to move more towards constructive discussions around meeting customer needs and away from “please use my product” discussions. Also, in this modern age, we are aware that different customers like to interact using different channels and media, therefore we use MR to understand which channels we should maximise use of, so the HCP does not have a waiting room full of reps!

We also use MR to understand the educational needs of HCPs, in order to build our medical education programs to deliver meaningful and useful disease area education. Finally, we use MR to understand potential opportunities to buy new medicines, or licence in from other manufacturers (some companies don’t have a commercial presence). MR will tell us if this is an investment worth making – will it address an unmet need or is it just another “me too”?

A cynic may argue that market research only exists to help pharmaceutical companies make money and it has little to do with promoting the best patient outcomes. How would you counter this argument?

I won’t pretend that market research does not help us commercially. Unfortunately, there are some companies who do not have resources to be able to run multiple projects, so will try and capture as much as they can in one survey. Our clinical trial data helps us understand where our medicines are optimal and therefore set expectations on usage – we use MR to see what is happening in the real-world, where these patients are not in a clinical trial setting and are instead impacted by the reality of their day to day lives. We use MR to ask the HCPs (and patients) about their experiences of these real-world settings and we use these outputs to help tailor our communications to identify the most relevant patients and help the HCP identify those who will best benefit from our medicines. An example might be patient adherence to medication – this could be identified as an issue during MR, where usage may differ from clinical trials and therefore may put the patient at risk from sub-optimal self-management. MR will help us send focused communication on these findings to HCPs and potentially deliver better patient support solutions.

Patient centricity has become increasingly important for pharmaceutical companies over recent years. What is it and how does market research with patients and doctors support it?

Personally, I think this is a buzz word – patient centricity SHOULD be the focus of everyone in pharma, it’s what we get out of bed for – but patient research is often the first to be cut when budgets are restricted. I believe this is a reaction to needing to inform the financial side of the business and keeping shareholders up to date, as these are how we are measured externally. MR can help us understand more about the patient side and then use this data to communicate internally about patient needs and how well (or not) we are meeting those needs. Because we are not permitted to communicate directly with patients, HCPs are the gate keepers to contact with them, and therefore are perceived to be the most knowledgeable. However, patient research can turn our head towards the important topics that may not be picked up in HCP research. Patient associations and pharma work together to support their activities and help them raise a voice when Patient Association Groups don’t have the resources to do this alone. MR can help us understand more about the patient side and subsequently use this data to communicate internally about patient needs and how well (or not) we are meeting those needs.

Thinking of a typical market research project, what types of people have a role in developing and reviewing the questionnaire before it is presented to doctors or patients?

This is very dependent on who us asking the questions. If it is for a commercial research project it will be the MR manager, medical approver, compliance, marketer or pharmacovigilance. For health economics research, everyone from the commercial research team will also be involved, plus the people responsible for outcomes research and market access. In patient research we’ll also involve the communications manager and the patient liaison team.

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