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November 2013

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Realizing the Value of Mixed Respondent Mini-Groups

Written by , Posted in Research Methods

Early in my career I was told that mixing physician types and other medical professionals in group interview settings was a no-no.  The main concerns surround the potential biasing influence of dominant personalities, the influence of role relationships outside of the group, and the possibility that respondent worries about appearances or reputation will stifle open conversation.

In the past year we threw caution to the wind and experimented with mixed-respondent type mini-groups with fantastic results.   We have mixed different physician specialties, formulary directors from managed care organizations and hospital pharmacists in these mini-groups (typically 3 to 4 participants).

Real-world medical decisions are not made in a vacuum; different clinical specialists and other hospital staff interact to reach consensus on the appropriate treatment for each patient.  These different specialists often treat the same condition, with different approaches yielding different results.  For specific research questions, the open dialogue that results when different types of respondents challenge each other’s opinions and approaches can provide a new level of insight into the therapeutic category and ultimately your business strategy.  Understanding these dynamics and interactions can greatly impact how you sell your products to your end users.

So how do you know when mixing respondent types is appropriate, and how can you maximize the insight gained?

  • Evaluate each project on a case by case basis; this method is not appropriate for all research engagements.  Appropriate applications include:  early phase new product development, ideation to identify gaps in current treatment pathways or services, treatment decision-making when multiple players are involved, new product evaluation, value proposition development and positioning.
  • The moderator is key to success.  You need a confident moderator who can nurture and manage disagreement.  Setting expectations upfront that we anticipate and encourage disagreement is key.
  • You can only mix certain respondent types.  While you can mix different physician specialties, hospital administrators, pharmacy directors and payers, we do not recommend mixing in nurses or other support staff.  In most cases the dynamics that exist among those roles can lead to sub-optimal outcomes in the discussion.  It would take a very confident member of the support staff to disagree with a highly respected physician, which is less likely to happen in a group setting.
  • The remuneration for participation in this group must be equitable across all roles.  This often means you have to pay certain roles MORE than fair market value.  Respondents talk and compare notes, and a perception of inequitable payment can lead to a near riot in the waiting room.

When used appropriately, this approach can yield insights that far surpass traditional techniques.   In one of our more recent projects, we were able to watch consensus build around a product that respondents initially saw limited value in.  The different experiences in the group challenged the prevailing opinions, showing certain respondents that there was more than “one point of view” on the condition and the unmet needs in the space.  These interactions allowed our client to build the most compelling value proposition for their product.

– Lynn Clement, MPH, Chief of Staff, Vice President Research, KJT Group

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