The Role of Medical Market Research in Transforming Patient Care

It is not enough to design a great product. To properly ensure it provides useful functionality, the product must be thoroughly market tested. After all, what’s the point of a great product that no one buys?

If you asked a healthcare worker or patient, they might state that market research is all about establishing pricing. They might believe that the emphasis of market research surveys is on the price they are willing to pay for the given medication/device.

As with all products in the medical field, price is always an important factor. But it is never the only factor! The given medication or device must offer developers a deserved return on investment while being affordable for users. However, there is so much more to medical market research than just determining the best pricing.

Perhaps those more knowledgeable would state that medical market research discusses options to bring appropriate products to market. For example, from the wound care sector:

  • ‘What are the appropriate sizes for wound care dressings?’
  • ‘Do I want this wound dressing to last three or seven days?’
  • ‘Should wound care dressings be available in a variety of colour options? And if so, which colours?’

Experienced medical developers know that market research is important at all stages of product development in medical care. Much like medical care itself, medical market research loses effectiveness if the focus isn't on improving patient care.

In today's world, with limited personnel and state funding, there is both a desire and the need to transform medical care from traditional pay-for-service models to ones that engage patients and medical professionals more. Not only do patients benefit from a care perspective, but there is a positive knock-on effect on cost.

So why is market research part of this patient care transformation? Well, it enables medical professionals and patients to contribute to developing better care devices and models.

At the concept stage, the medical user's voice is essential for proving that a proposed device can help with medical care. For example, developing a Bluetooth digital sensor device for medical imaging would waste resources. Most imaging suites protect from electronic signals to preserve the integrity of scans.

Similarly, paraplegics will tell you they want more research on their daily needs rather than devices to help them walk. For example, this could be researching ways to create wheelchairs that are easier to get in and out of. Yes, they want to walk, but in the meantime, they need better devices and wheelchairs to support daily life.

Medical professionals, on the other hand, will tell you they don't want more drop-down boxes in healthcare IT software. Instead, they want better user-friendly interfaces that allow for better input and retrieval of patient data.

Likewise, in the development stage, it can be helpful to ensure that the device meets the medical end-users’ needs. For instance, devices for elderly patients should undergo testing to ensure those with limited hand mobility can operate controls. Those of us of a certain age can recall seeing how our elderly relatives struggled with (and loudly complained about) opening medication vials once child-proof caps were first introduced.

One of my first experiences in the field of market research was in ultrasound probes. Sonographers told me the hardest part of their day was turning the machine on and off. This was because the power switch was in a difficult spot to reach, at the back of the machine, near a wall in a small room.

In the final design stage, it is crucial to determine the correct pricing. This prevents manufacturers from experiencing financial losses. However, when setting the price, it's also important to consider factors beyond just medical ones.

For instance, consider the packaging of a medical device. Should the priority be the sturdiness of the box to protect the device during storage and transport? Or should the focus be on making it easy to open, especially during urgent situations? Or should both aspects be equally important?

Medical professionals will tell you that packaging should always be easily identifiable. The unnamed manufacturer standardised their wound care packaging, relying on 'small coloured' labels detailing differences. This caused a lot of confusion in many medical store rooms and badwill directed at the manufacturer. One user described it as the 'New Coke catastrophe' of the medical sector.

So, medical market research ensures that resources are best directed at all stages of bringing a product to market. Its main function is to identify medical needs and pain points while considering patient and healthcare professional experiences. It also assesses likely acceptance of the product and helps to minimise unforced development errors. In these ways, medical market research helps to transform patient care.