We spend hours slaving over screeners and debating our sampling strategy: but can we think differently about the seniority of our respondents in order to enhance the quality of our research outcomes, and bring something fresh to the table? Elizabeth Openshaw (Research Manager) has been investigating…

It’s day one of your qualitative research project, and the first interview is a familiar face- Dr Whatshisname, serial MR respondent and highly experienced senior consultant. It’s always great to hear his views, but at this point you’ve seen him in action so many times you know what his views are likely to be- and you also know that his views are unlikely to change! Do you find yourself wondering: am I really gaining maximum value in only speaking to these senior physicians, and is there anyone else I could speak to, in order to see a fuller picture of the true therapeutic landscape- and gain better value for my research?

Well, here’s a hypothesis for you: Although senior physicians, such as consultants, are more experienced and more influential, less senior physicians, such as SpRs (specialist registrars) or residents, can actually provide more value in a market research setting.

Do you agree? Well, there’s a side to both arguments, and it turns out that more junior physicians may be more useful in market research than traditionally perceived. Here’s some food for thought when considering who to recruit for your research…

Knowledge & Experience

When we’re designing screeners, we typically take it for granted that we’d like to speak to consultants or physicians with a minimum number of years spent practicing in their chosen field, and this is generally to ensure we are talking with healthcare professionals who have enough experience to provide valuable insights. Unsurprisingly, these physicians are indeed more experienced and knowledgeable, and can easily justify why they use certain treatments based on their long history of treating many patients in many settings. However, as a result of this, they may be more set in their ways, and less open to trying new treatments. It is for this reason that we typically screen out doctors who have been in their role for over 30 years, as they may be considered too ‘traditional’. On the other hand more junior doctors, being less experienced, may have a more open view towards new treatments, and in some cases, they may be just as experienced as consultants in handling a variety of scenarios and patient profiles. For example, SpRs in the UK may train for longer than the minimum time required for consultancy, to gain the ‘upper hand’ before taking the next step, and therefore this could be an additional consideration when fine-tuning recruitment and optimising your sample.

Level of engagement

This is an interesting one, and certainly a factor for debate! More senior physicians, who have had many years of experience, and are considered to be extremely experienced in their field, may actually be more cynical and less engaged in certain research topics such as message or concept testing. On the other hand, more junior physicians may be more open to concepts, ideas, and new treatments, and therefore may provide greater value to certain research projects. In addition, pharma and reps can play an important role in the education of physicians as they work their way up through their medical career, through seminars & presentations, and this can play an important role in potentially increasing willingness to participate in market research. As research projects frequently feed into business and communications strategy, these strategies must truly resonate in the real world; the real world contains a variety of seniorities, and so isn’t it important that a mix of seniorities is represented during the initial research project?

Patient involvement

In the UK, SpRs typically have much higher involvement with patients than consultants, and may provide better understanding into a typical patient journey, better insight into the emotional drivers for patients and HCPs, and better examples of patient case studies & personal experiences. Consultants may be more detached from the everyday treatment and care of patients, and sometimes may only be more involved with more complex or special cases. Therefore this is certainly a consideration for research focusing, for example, gaining an understanding into the typical treatment pathway, drilling into patient and HCP experiences, or a holistic understanding of drivers and barriers for patients and HCPs.

Decision making powers

Despite this mounting evidence that more junior doctors may have similar knowledge and perhaps higher engagement than their senior colleagues, we have to challenge ourselves on designing a realistic sample reflecting the influence and decision-making dynamics in the real world. Whilst more junior doctors will make treatment decisions for the “typical” patient, it is the consultant or attending who frequently has the overall decision making power, and SpRs in the UK will typically discuss a change in treatment with their consultant. SpRs do not have the power to prescribe expensive treatments such as biologics, so if the research in question focuses on expensive or complicated treatments, consultants would typically be the target respondent for this research. However, back to the real world, could we argue that a smaller sub sample of less experienced docs could be useful to understand scenarios where they will fight for/follow-up with their Consultant to sign off on a particular therapy?

Recruitment considerations

So it turns out there may be value in recruiting a mix of doctors at different levels of seniority! Here’s a quick summary of recruitment considerations below:

– When pulling together a recruitment screener, rather than screening based on seniority level, it may be worth considering additional factors, such as the actual time they spend with patients, the situation in which they can make treatment decisions, passion and engagement with their therapy area, and when more junior doctors are planning to take the next step in seniority level.

– Senior physicians, such as consultants, typically provide higher value for research on complex treatment algorithms, expensive treatment decisions (such as biologics), viewpoints on clinical endpoints, and insight into therapy areas with difficult-to-treat patients. More junior physicians may provide higher value for message or concept testing, creative outputs, decision making for more standard treatments, and insight into the patient pathway & emotional drivers and barriers. Perhaps it could be worth having a mix of seniorities in the same room to potentially drive further debate, using our successful Fusion Group methodology? This would be a nice example of ecosystem research, where we could maximise insights from a variety of seniority levels and HCPs.

– As always, the answer is never black and white, so it’s worth remembering that whilst some junior physicians are not necessarily as experienced or knowledgeable as their more senior counterparts, they exist in the real world, they will be our future decision makers for our future treatments, and could provide additional insight and value to a research project.

Special thanks to Frank Desbuquois & Tom Parkinson for providing their views from a recruitment perspective.

To find out more about our approach to optimised and balanced recruitment, get in touch.


By Elizabeth Openshaw

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