A Prescription for Better Research in 2023:
How to Make In-Person Healthcare Research Safe and Effective
When the pandemic began in March of 2020, our industry had to (quickly!) figure out how to continue conducting research when stay-at-home orders were implemented. Researchers had to adapt their methodologies to be more inclusive of remote options. In our latest webinar, we discussed these necessary modifications to processes and methodologies with researchers in the healthcare space.
L&E Research, along with many companies, had the good fortune of being remotely based for years prior to 2020, so existing processes and metrics were already in place, but we promptly realized that the fortunate were in the minority. Many companies operated from an office or a central location, and had to adapt their internal or operational processes for remote work. Not only was there an adaptation to their internal processes, but researchers who conducted in-person research had to additionally adapt the research process. On the other hand, some researchers were already conducting remote research, so their modifications were minimal. Those who were working remotely and conducting research remotely had a much easier transition than those who had to change both internal and research processes.
During our webinar we had the opportunity to talk with two researchers who had very different perspectives: one was conducting almost all research remotely already so the changes made were more about strengthening internal processes to increase efficiency, rather than how to continue the work; the other researcher was conducting almost all research in-person and had to make significant leaps to adapt their processes.
The pandemic temporarily halted in-person research, but that halt was the catalyst behind a great deal of innovation in qualitative research. New processes were developed based on the research needed.
- When travel bans were implemented for many researchers, but in-person research still needed to be conducted, we worked with our clients to develop and perfect a process that we call Remote Moderation. Facility staff are trained to be the client’s “boots on the ground” when the researcher cannot be in the same physical space as the participant. In addition to the usual services you would expect from a facility partner, we ensure paperwork is completed, we reset the room, often including the device being tested, and can instruct or direct the participant when necessary. The moderator conducts the session remotely via a video conferencing platform, without the need for travel.
- Home Use Testing (HUT or IHUT) was frequently used to replace in-person usability testing when possible. Traditionally home use testing is conducted by participants coming into a facility to pick up a product, then test it from their own home for a predetermined amount of time. During the pandemic, we shipped test devices when that was an option for our clients, which eliminated the need for face-to-face contact. Of course, some products or devices are ineligible for HUT due to intellectual property, size limitations, or price limitations, and those still need to be conducted in-person.
- After the initial stay-at-home orders were lifted in early summer of 2020, in-person research started to slowly return. Many clients opted to conduct one-on-one interviews rather than focus groups to limit the risk of possible viral transmission, which reduced the amount of people in the facility at any given time, making it safer for both clients and facility staff. In addition to reducing the head count in our facility, we implemented multiple improvements to minimize contact, such as electronic sign-in and check-out processes, including incentive distribution via e-gift card, limiting people in shared spaces (i.e. asking them to wait in their car rather than a lobby), mask mandates, touch-free doors, electrostatic sprayers, plexiglass dividers, mandatory surface sanitization between sessions, and more. In retrospect, we may have gone overboard, but the modifications decreased the risk of transmission, and everyone involved felt like their safety was the number one priority.
There were some misconceptions about healthcare provider recruitment during the pandemic. Many clients delayed their research due to an incorrect assumption that physicians would not be available for research. This was not indicative of our recruiting experience. Acute care physicians and practitioners were definitely strained during the pandemic, but non-emergency service providers experienced a slowdown. Because of stay-at-home orders, many elective procedures were canceled or postponed, so some practitioners experienced a decrease in work over the course of the pandemic. We saw a higher response rate within our healthcare panel because practitioners suddenly had a lot of free time on their hands and wanted to participate in market research, especially and specifically, remote-based research.
There was an increase of fraudulent behavior, so recruiters had to be very diligent about vetting recruits, especially in the healthcare space, since incentives are higher, therefore more alluring. Healthcare professionals were validated via online resources to confirm that they were in the profession they stated, and patients had to provide proof of prescription, diagnosis, and/or therapies used before being scheduled for sessions.
Now that we are on the other side of the pandemic…or at least moving toward it, what do we anticipate for the future? At the core, we’ve learned that we have to be flexible and we have to adapt. Review internal processes to see if there’s room to streamline or reduce costs. Research should be fit-for-purpose, so if it can be effectively conducted remotely, why would you want to spend more? When it comes to device usability or sensory testing, in-person research isn’t going away. Strive to find a balance and use both remote and in-person methodologies, as there will always be value in utilizing a variety of strategies.
We hope you found this summary to be helpful! If you didn’t register for this webinar you can watch this webinar in its entirety by clicking here.
Be on the lookout for our next webinar, which will be in Spring of 2023. If you can’t wait until then, you can always view our on-demand webinars. Don’t forget to join our mailing list so you can keep up with what is happening at L&E!