Healthcare & the Smartphone Paradox

The paradox of smartphones is that they both divide us and bring us together. When your friends, family members and colleagues take out their smartphone, you may feel pangs of isolation. But when your survey respondents do, there is an opportunity to connect with them more deeply in the moment and gain a glimpse into their lives and their experiences.

The paradox of smartphones is that they both divide us and bring us together. When your friends, family members and colleagues take out their smartphone, you may feel pangs of isolation. But when your survey respondents do, there is an opportunity to connect with them more deeply in the moment and gain a glimpse into their lives and their experiences.

Qual on the Cusp: Patients & HCPs
Qualitative researchers are taking full advantage of mobile, using smartphones to connect with respondents in real time. We have witnessed fantastic learnings in the last year in our healthcare research practice. One way we use smartphones is to help patients visually communicate their experiences with a disease. In oncology, patients document their first day of chemo and the process of getting a wig to mark the steps in their intense journey. In diabetes, patients show the burden of a chronic disease using daily visual and text updates to chronicle how the disease affects their life—like making a decision at the movies, where the temptation of popcorn and candy can mean an extra insulin injection.
Healthcare professionals use smartphones to participate in research as well, which has opened a window to a world that, until now, was only available to researchers through in-situ observation. For example, specialists share pictures of tools they use in their office to communicate with patients: One physician posted a photo of a skeleton that he fondly calls “George.” In oncology, practice managers participate in an online bulletin board to review detailed concept ideas and respond using their PC or smartphone, adding an element of convenience for busy respondents. Smartphones make these learnings possible with increased speed and cost efficiencies.
New Frontiers for Quant
When it comes to quantitative research, mobile research is in the nascent phases. Across all of the industries we serve, we have learned that there is a portion of respondents who take surveys on their mobile phones, regardless of our intended platform. We have put measures in place to ensure that respondents do not take certain types of surveys on their mobile device (e.g., discrete choice modeling or text-heavy concept tests). Gregg Peterson, a leader in our research operations group, is doing a lot of fascinating work on this topic and developing a new mobile survey interface and best practices to ensure comparability of mobile and non-mobile respondents. Early learnings tell us certain physician specialties may be more predisposed to using their smartphone for research than others. 
Stars Align for Mobile & Healthcare Research
Over the last few months, we have been talking to clients about the seemingly endless possibilities of survey research via mobile devices. I see this as one of those rare moments where technology aligns with the direction of the healthcare industry as a whole. Some examples:
  • Change for both insurers and providers is lightning fast and includes sweeping new legislation for patients, insurers, providers and systems, making it hard for anyone to predict the impact. It will be important to learn about the experiences of millions of uninsured people who will enter the marketplace through health insurance exchanges. Mobile methods enable recruiting a panel of uninsured consumers to participate in real-time visual and text diaries as they walk through this process for the first time.
  • In our current era in which blockbuster drugs are few and far between, many pharmaceutical companies are focused on hard-to-reach niche populations. To address this, we have developed custom panels of sufferers and treaters, as well as other HCPs (e.g., coordinators) of rare diseases. Marketing research on rare diseases is one of our passions and a growing focus for our clients. Providing smartphone survey options can increase our pool of respondents in areas where the incidence level of sufferers and treaters is low. As we all know: When incidence is low, every respondent counts and every response matters.
  • Mobile provides patients and physicians the opportunity to take a survey “on the go” and at their convenience, which is increasingly important. Doctors, who can’t carve out a half hour to take a survey in one setting, might answer a few questions between patients throughout the day. Or, they could complete a voice diary while driving between hospitals.
In the Medical Moment with You
Not only does mobile help us gain access to niche populations, but it also increases the quality of insights. Using mobile devices to gain “in the moment” insights is particularly powerful in medical marketing research, where we constantly ask respondents to reconstruct events from memory. The events we seek to understand are highly complex (a prescribing decision weighing clinical factors and cost) and highly emotional (a cancer diagnosis). Respondents have the best intentions as they try to accurately reconstruct past events, but the complexity, bias and emotions involved present an inherent challenge. Mobile research allows respondents to respond at key points in time, rather than relying on memory. The value of this can’t be underestimated.
In physician messaging research, I have frequent discussions with my clients about the appropriate window to solicit feedback about a sales rep interaction. Within one week of a detail? Two weeks? Imagine the possibilities with mobile surveys. Response time with mobile is quicker than with traditional online methods: After a rep visit, it makes instant feedback possible. If we want feedback within a week of a sales rep visit, then we target an invitation for this timeframe and can expect prompt feedback.
With patients, smartphones are often a constant companion and allow us immediacy we did not have before. The value of immediacy is clear when obtaining quantitative survey data at key moments in time, like when a patient fills a new prescription and tells us what happened, what information was exchanged and what they felt. Another opportunity to learn is when a patient calls an insurer for help understanding coverage: Mobile allows for a quick, convenient assessment of the experience.
Finally, given the small sample size of some niche populations, mobile provides a great opportunity for multi-method studies. Imagine a quantitative survey that contains several self-administered qualitative tasks: a diary exercise recording how a patient feels; a photo- or video- journaling exercise where physicians state how they view treating a particular disease condition. The possibilities for hybrid qual-quant methodologies are vast.
Closing Thoughts
It seems like there is a new article every week about the omnipresence of smartphones and how they are shaping our culture. While I agree smartphones can lead to annoying distractions and interruptions, the market researcher in me is excited about the possibilities they provide to form better, more meaningful connections with respondents.
This content was provided by Martket Strategies International. Visit their website at

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