It’s widely taught by healthcare market research companies that there are two reasons to conduct market research. Problem-seeking and problem-solving. As true as this may be, there’s a third reason that often remains unspoken—understanding

Understanding is arguably the most important component of any successful healthcare marketing transaction, but unfortunately, it is often glossed over or misunderstood entirely. 

Without understanding, we lack the full context needed to effectively process the problems we identify and the solutions we prescribe. Understanding provides context for marketing and patient support programming. Market research without understanding and context is like an empty coffee mug. It’s still the vessel for marketing movement, but without patient understanding, you lack the fuel needed for real movement. “Understanding fuels thinking and aids you with the perspective of your stakeholders when designing marketing and patient support solutions,” explains Matt Bradley, VP of Insights at LIFT.

“Market research that is light on (or even void of) understanding and context risks being incomplete, leaving you, as the marketer, to fill in a large, under-the-surface gap. Before we ever start to discuss solutions or strategic design, it’s imperative that marketers strive to see the problem or area of focus through the eyes of the stakeholder.” 

HUMAN UNDERSTANDING OR BUST

Using healthcare market research to illuminate a problem is one thing. Using healthcare research to understand that problem is altogether something else—and should be the only reason we conduct research. In today’s value-driven and patient-centric healthcare landscape, understanding the drivers behind problems—the socio-economic realities, ground level stakeholder truths, and systematic shortcomings that create that problem in the first place—is critical to problem-solving. 

“There’s a reason patients do the things they do” explains Bradley, “And understanding those reasons through patient-focused marketing research is the quickest way to fostering relevant messaging that leads to better care and better outcomes. It’s sometimes not easy, but it’s worth the investment, I assure you.”

Understanding is difficult. It takes listening to and observing a range of stakeholders, such as family, caregivers, clinical staff, and other related stakeholders at ground level to identify and understand their lived experiences and the burdens of disease or treatment. This is where qualitative methods shine—helping illuminate patient needs, motivations, and realities, thereby adding value to the often abundant, yet insufficient quantitative data that so many hospital marketers depend on. 

“A balance of qualitative and quantitative data is your best bet if you want to cultivate deep understanding that will stand up to the demands of leadership while serving the strategy of your health system.” Explains Bradley. “By taking a mixed-methods approach to market research you will pave the way to understanding.”

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality defines mixed methods as “… an emergent methodology of research that advances the systematic integration, or “mixing,” of quantitative and qualitative data within a single investigation or sustained program of inquiry. The basic premise of this methodology is that such integration permits a more complete and synergistic utilization of data than do separate quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis.”

Quantitative insights will provide cold hard data that is void of human context—the why behind the what. Understanding emerges when you take the time to listen and observe your patient at ground level. You must understand the situation in the market, understand the people behind the problems, understand the community’s opinion of those problems, and understand the hospital’s capabilities in addressing those problems. Then you have the type of understanding needed to effectively problem-solve. 

BUILDING A BETTER, MORE EMPATHIC MARKET RESEARCH MOUSETRAP

Virtually all hospitals have access to quantitative data (discharge, EHR data, reimbursement, market statistics, market surveys, and so on), but that type of data alone is not enough—integrating qualitative understanding with statistical data is the only logical way to illuminate a well-rounded picture. A mixed methods approach provides balance and understanding that will fuel better strategies for connecting with, educating, and empowering patients and consumers to play a more active role in their health and wellbeing while also advancing the business strategy of the hospital and health system.

Healthcare marketers are being increasingly compelled to stop depending on, and acting on, purely statistics and numbers—healthcare marketers need to seek out and act on the deep stakeholder understanding that emerges when melding quantitative and qualitative insights. Marketers who rely solely on numbers will lose their strategic edge and ultimately market position in the face of healthcare marketers who champion the human voice as a critical component of strategy.

In using a mixed-methods approach and employing empathic qualitative methods to dig deeper, you not only uncover problems in your hospital and community but understand why the problems exist at ground-level through your patients’ lived experience.

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