Pharmaceutical Market Research: How to Secure the Right Panel of Experts

Getting the right mix of experts – clinicians and payers – across a variety of markets to share their insights on therapeutic areas and treatment methods requires patience and perseverance. As market researchers, our role is to support our clients by gathering these different perspectives.

This has become my main role at Gatehouse ICS, and over the past three years I have been developing the skills necessary to engage with these key stakeholders.

We start on LinkedIn with a search for experts in a therapeutic area in particular countries and reach out to people to ask if they would be willing to take part in the market research. If they agree to connect, we will email them with extra information about the project and ask when they would be available for an interview.

These aspects of the role require coordination, ensuring everything is up to date on password-protected spreadsheets, so that if anyone else follows up they know where we are in the process. For example, we log the date the expert responded and the date an interview was conducted. We do ask each expert we liaise with if we can keep their contact details on file. That way, if we are asked to recruit for similar projects we have an immediate list of people to reach out to.

Communication is integral to the role. For instance, there have been projects where we just need to interview a small number of people for a project but more people than required respond. We will then look at how best to deal with that situation to ensure we retain good relations with all experts who take the time to respond to us. It might mean interviewing the first person who responded, or the person whose availability is best suited to the project and our own schedules, while always following up with everyone.

Managing engagement

One of the biggest challenges we have as market researchers is getting enough responses from clinicians. This has become much more difficult since COVID-19 as healthcare professionals struggle with an enormous and emotionally burdensome workload.

I have learned that we need to allow more time for clinicians, as well as where we are most or least likely to get a positive response. Perhaps just anecdotally, we have found that the two countries with the poorest response rates are Australia and Northern Ireland, and that clinicians in England tend to be the most responsive.

Another important element of market research is being adaptable. It can be difficult to pin people down, especially busy clinicians, and sometimes a contact just drops off the radar for various reasons, or it turns out their background isn’t right for the project. We had a project recently where we needed to recruit 45 clinicians from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. We managed to get to 43 but unfortunately the two clinicians we thought were from Wales turned out to be based in England, which meant going back to the drawing board. Ultimately, it does require a little patience and perseverance and being willing to go out again to recruit more experts if we don’t hit our targets.

Typically, these issues arise because people often don’t update their LinkedIn profiles, so you aren’t aware if they have moved, if their area of specialty has changed, or if they have retired. Sometimes we can get a better idea about whether a person is active in their role by cross-referencing with other sites. For example, in England most NHS websites are kept up to date, which makes it easier to determine if a clinician is still working in a certain field.

Overcoming barriers

Beyond the UK, the biggest challenge we face as market researchers is the language barrier. For example, a lot of profiles for European clinicians will be in their respective languages, so we need to start with a simple translation. And because the healthcare systems in Europe differ from the UK, we also need to understand the difference between public and private hospitals in other markets so we recruit appropriately.

Over the past three years, I’ve become a lot more comfortable with the different healthcare systems and their various budgeting systems. I have learned what types of hospitals to look for and the different terminologies used in other countries. I’ve also learned about the types of legal barriers that might affect recruitment. But there is always more to learn as we expand our market research network and the types and sizes of projects we take on.