“Before you judge a man, walk a mile in their shoes.”

Each day in market research, we try to walk a mile in another’s’ shoes – possibly the most literal example of this being where we explore the patient journey. These are entire research programs designed to truly understand what the journey may look like through the eyes of the patient. Unfortunately, this catchy idiom makes it sound simple- though we know it’s not as simple as pulling on those shoes and going for a hike… When it comes down to it, we simply don’t know what we don’t know!

We’ve heard time and time again the common frustration from patients: the fact that even the most well-intentioned and supportive people in patients’ lives (including healthcare professionals!) cannot truly understand their burdens. Imagine: your partner tries to make a nice gesture and cook dinner one night – unfortunately you’re feeling too nauseated from treatment to eat, and your loved one is left feeling offended. Or, friends stop inviting you to events with the best intentions – to save you from needing to say no and explain you’re too tired today – but to you, those invitations to socialize are one of the few bits of normalcy remaining.

Now, imagine trying to articulate these challenges to a complete stranger, in a traditional market research interview. While there can be something therapeutic about an unfamiliar face to unload to – the reality is on the best of days it can be an uncomfortable ask: – especially when it comes to the more personal and inward impacts of disease.

The other challenge is we often simply don’t understand just how far-reaching the impact of disease can be. Typical discussions are limited by the aspects of disease we already know about; can think to probe on; or (more practically) are appropriately able to probe on. However, illnesses often impact patients far more than we are ever able to see and observe – many of these can get lost in in-depth interviews simply because we may not know the paths to wander down – those all-important “unknown unknowns”.

To address this, we developed SoulMate™. SoulMate™ is based upon thoughtfully designed duo interviews, that place the focus on the shared experiences and learnings between the patients rather than a more traditional moderator-led discussion.

There are several aspects to SoulMate™ that make the methodology so successful, and we’re always so pleased with the rich insights they can uncover for patient journey research in particular…

  • Creating truer connections between patients:
    • Thoughtful and sensitive screening: Since our first self-funded study we have developed ways to match and overlap patient experience and context to enable them to build rapport and facilitate comfort.  We also take steps during screening to assess personality and openness, as to ensure ‘compatibility’ between patients. This brings a greater ability for patients to share discussions and for us to assess both similarities and draw out important differences in experience where comparison provides richness
    • Building the relationship early: Inclusion of another patient in the interview is an important aspect to putting patients at ease. However, even before the interview, our pre-work technique, PenPal, allows patients the space to get to know one another before the day of the interview and bring further rapport to the conversations.


  • Patient-focused interview structure: The greatest insights in SoulMate™ are actually those you’ve not yet thought of – and that is one of the greatest values of the technique. SoulMate™ interviews are purposely structured with flexibility in mind, and include sections of discussion without a moderator present – allowing conversation to re-orient to those areas of greatest importance to the patients. The goal is to facilitate the natural flow between the patients, rather than take the more typical question and answer format directed by the moderator – allowing patients to openly discuss areas a guide (rightfully) would never dare to probe, including aspects of sexual health, or areas we never think to ask about, such as the impact on fertility.

In our self-fund research with breast cancer patients, before SoulMate™, patients opened up to us about treatment exhaustion and the support from their partner However, after SoulMate™, we able to go a layer deeper and understand the impact on intimacy between them and their partner after treatment. The technique allows us to uncover the parts of disease that may be uncomfortable to discuss, and we simply would not think (or comfortably be able!) to ask.

So- coming back to the handy adage: sometimes the best way to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes is to start a walking group- and tread the path together!

To see more about the outputs of our self-funded study, see our SoulMates infographic here.

If you’d like to learn more about SoulMate™ or if it is a good fit for your research plan, get in touch.


By Dana Hill

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