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Healthcare Market Research – Inspiring and enlightening!

I’ve worked in healthcare market research for over 17 years and in that time have been fortunate enough to have had many exciting opportunities – but the most overwhelming feeling I have when I think about my career is a real sense of privilege. Much of that comes from the work we do with patients: I’ve spent time interviewing people with HIV, hearing about their journey from the horror of diagnosis to learning how advances in treatment mean they can now live a long and normal life. I’ve almost been moved to tears as a man my age described how his psoriasis was once so bad that it covered his entire body, with his every movement causing him pain; before feeling his palpable sense of joy as he described the impact that a new biologic treatment has had on his life and self-esteem. I’ve been in awe of the positive attitudes of people living with terminal illnesses like cancer, or debilitating conditions such as MS. And in lighter moments I’ve laughed with elderly men who have rediscovered their sex lives thanks to little blue pills and blushed as giggling women compared notes on their contraceptive choices in focus groups affectionately known to many in the industry as “rude groups”!

But it’s not just the people who have these conditions sharing their experiences with me that has made me feel privileged. I have also spent many hours talking with inspiring doctors – individuals operating at the top of their profession; men and women who have pioneered new ways of doing things. I’ve marvelled at the professionalism that really good nurses demonstrate, often under huge pressure and the unwavering care they give to their patients. While some of the fascinating conversations I have had with those responsible for making critical decisions about whether certain medicines or procedures should be funded by the NHS or not might be better suited to a moral philosophy class.

Many of my best experiences have come from qualitative research, finding out about how and why people do things and trying to better understand their behaviours. But for those who enjoy the challenge of designing and executing quantitative research, providing robust data so that clients can make big decisions with the confidence that numbers bring, then there are ample opportunities in this sector too. From advanced segmentation of patient populations or doctor typologies, to conjoint methodologies to help companies decide which messages are most important to convey about their yet to be launched drug. From measuring corporate reputations of drug companies, to deciding on the optimum price for a new medication, right through to large scale Awareness, Trial and Usage ATU studies to understand how brands are performing in the market place – it’s all there for the quant researcher.

"the methods we use to capture customer insights are just as exciting as in consumer research. But in what other sector can you really help make such a difference to people’s lives?"
 Steve Lowery, Red Leaf Research

There is a misconception that you need some form of medical training to work in healthcare market research; you don’t. My degree was in politics and my colleagues graduated in subjects as diverse as French and Business and Geography. None of us are medically trained, you just learn as you go – and sometimes you learn so much that you realise you know more than your GP about certain conditions! What you do need are the core skills and characteristics that make a great researcher – curiosity, creativity, an analytical mind and the ability to turn information into a meaningful story – as well as the attributes that make people effective in any commercial business environment.

I have chosen to pursue my career on the agency side of the fence because I love the variety, freedom and occasional thrill of the chase that agency life brings. But many of my friends in the industry have had equally rewarding careers working client-side, enjoying the challenge and opportunities that working for a big pharmaceutical company in a market research or business intelligence role.

The industry is highly regulated, more so than perhaps any other, which provides a very different set of challenges for the companies trying to market their products – what other industry forbids companies from advertising directly to the end users of their products? But despite this, the same principles apply as in the rest of the marketing world. The brands can be just as big – who has never heard of Viagra, or Prozac or Tamiflu? And the methods we use to capture customer insights are just as exciting as in consumer research. But in what other sector can you really help make such a difference to people’s lives?

Not every project gives you the emotional highs I described at the beginning of this article, but I can honestly say I learn something new on every one. And when you do occasionally hit the jackpot and get to feel part of something that could be truly life changing for some people – that’s when healthcare MR is at its brilliant best.

If you are interested in a career in Healthcare Market Research or Business Intelligence then a good starting point is to visit the Jobs and Careers section of the British Healthcare Business Intelligence Association (BHBIA) website at; here you can find out more about the whole range of career options in the healthcare sector, including several not mentioned in this article.

Article provided by Steve Lowery, Co-Founder and Director, Red Leaf Research, March 2013

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