The Two Pillars of Medical Qualitative Market Research

September 10, 2007 (PRLEAP.COM) Health News



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Maywood, NJ September 10, 2007

As described by Jack M. Shapiro, Principal Consultant for J.M. Shapiro Healthcare Marketing Research and Consulting there are two pillars of qualitative medical market research: focus groups and in-depth interviews. He has provided a succinct description of both major tools which companies such as his provide clients in the fields of prescription and non-prescription pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, supplies and devices, hospitals, managed care, homecare, diagnostics, clinical research organizations, advertising agencies, branding specialists, and venture capitalists:

MEDICAL FOCUS GROUPS include up to a dozen respondents (consumers, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, administrators, or other healthcare personnel) who are asked about their views/needs regarding specific subjects. This is a form of qualitative research and is considered “exploratory.” It is often the first step a client may take in order to evaluate the demand for a product or the viability of a promotional program. The group usually lasts for up to two hours and is led by a skilled moderator working from a discussion guide. This is a quick, useful, inexpensive way for companies to gain initial reactions to a new idea. Although results are not projectable to the nation as a whole, they provide valuable guidance and an overall “feel” for the market; researchers often call this “directional” research.

Focus groups are usually held in special facilities with a two-way mirror so that clients may observe from a viewing room. It is sometimes necessary to conduct these in hotel meeting rooms with remote camera equipment enabling clients to view from another room. This is an excellent way to observe group reactions to ascertain needs for new products, reactions to new advertising, or evaluate prototypes for new products – just three of many ways clients use focus groups.

While companies often use focus groups to obtain initial reactions to products, services and promotional concepts, a second step frequently involves IN-DEPTH INTERVIEWS with physicians, consumers, nurses, pharmacists, administrators and other related personnel in order to confirm focus group findings and plunge into particular subjects in greater depth than a focus group would allow. This is a more data-rich, labor-intensive technique where respondents can be individually interviewed for an hour or longer (45-minutes interviews are quite common) in order to reveal their deepest thoughts and motivations. By comparison, a respondent might only speak for 10 – 15 minutes in a 10 –12 person focus group lasting for two hours.

The interviews are conducted by a trained interviewer working from a prepared discussion guide. While this is usually considered to be qualitative, non-projectable research with samples of no more than 30 – 50 respondents (and often fewer), some studies can become projectable when sample sizes reach 100 or more. Many in-depth interview studies are conducted in focus group facilities with two-way mirrors for clients to observe, but studies have often been conducted over the telephone or in other venues (restaurants, offices, the respondents’ homes, for example). Interviews are usually tape recorded with the respondent’s permission.

Given the great amount of data that can be generated by this technique as well as longer time spent in the field conducting the research, in-depth interview studies might take considerably longer to execute and issue a report than focus groups which are often viewed in just a few nights.


Jack M. Shapiro is an internationally-known healthcare marketing researcher, consultant, futurist, broadcast journalist and public speaker.

Jack includes among his clients major companies in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries and insurance companies, advertising agencies, hospitals, and manufacturers of medical equipment, supplies and devices. Often quoted in the healthcare industry, general business, and lay publications, Jack has been a frequent guest on national television (ABC, NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, FOX, PBS and abroad on BBC and ITN) and radio as a commentator on healthcare trends and politics in the United States and overseas.

From 1997-1999, he was the host of “MEDI-POLITICS,” a nationally-syndicated radio show focusing on the politics and future of healthcare as well as key legal and ethical issues. The show reached more than 40 markets in 26 states (31 million people in-audience) and around the world on the internet.

Jack has spent 40 years in the healthcare field, both in the U.S. and abroad. Before forming his successful research and consulting company, he held high-level management positions in marketing and market research with healthcare giants such as Wyeth and Pfizer.

He is currently writing a book about the future of American healthcare based on his long experience in the healthcare industry, in-depth interviews with leading experts who appeared on his radio show as well as on-going poll results generated by his market research company.

Recently Jack was the event host and master-of-ceremonies at the “Global Pharma R&D Summit,” attended by over 250 top pharmaceutical scientists from around the world. Jack is also available to speak and write on future healthcare trends and is well-known keynote speaker.