What happens when your sole method of qualitative research is taken away from you? Traditionally conducted face-to-face, qualitative research is critical in identifying challenges, testing solutions, and ensuring the success of digital health products and programs for end-users.
As COVID-19 physical distancing measures prevent face-to-face sessions, it may seem like you have to press pause on your research right now. But this doesn’t have to be the case. By challenging traditional research practices, you can uncover valuable insights that you wouldn’t discover in a face-to-face scenario.
Overcoming physical distancing restrictions
When working with global HCPs and patients with chronic and/or rare diseases, getting everyone together in one room has always been a significant challenge, so we developed the capacity to conduct remote research and run virtual workshops, which deliver insights for clients every day.
Although you may lose the immediate personal connection and perhaps some of the raw emotion that face-to-face sessions provide, working in this fashion has illuminated some clear benefits, too. Here are three ways remote research can work better than, ‘traditional’ consultancy methods for the life sciences industry:
1. Greater representation in exploratory research
Exploratory research is conducted to find out the challenges potential end-users of a digital health solution may experience. The aim is to capture as much insight as possible and therefore patients are often spread across the globe – the more diverse the dataset, the better.
The difficulty here, of course, is that patients are often vulnerable, meaning travel may not be possible or entirely appropriate. Shifting to a virtual session – typically a moderated and lightly guided phone call, conducted either one-to-one or in small focus groups – practically removes the barrier to entry and drives up participation rates since patients can do it from home.
This increased participation helps deliver better quality outcomes from the research by revealing deeper insights you may not have captured otherwise.
Such benefits also allay commonly held reservations regarding the ability to build rapport with participants over the phone; an experienced interviewer is able to establish a relationship and elicit insights from participants regardless of their method.
2. More effective solution ideation
While the energy in a room can be great for driving new ideas, there are many advantages and indeed necessities that lead to remote ideation sessions. For example, there is often need for insight and buy-in from a multitude of stakeholders, internally and externally, who are scattered in different locations with busy schedules. Face-to-face sessions are therefore incredibly difficult to schedule.
There are inhibitors to the effectiveness of face-to-face sessions, too. Mental overload, fatigue, and more confident participants driving ‘herd thinking’ can all inhibit the diversity of ideas and prevent full group representation. Short and sharp remote sessions can solve this problem. As well as being more cost effective to host, participants can join online sessions from home so are less fatigued, and with the right tools they can more confidently share their insights with the group.
Remote ideation sessions, therefore, offer additional and unique insight.
For one leading pharma company, we recently designed a series of online sessions for research they were conducting into a potential solution. We organised four sprint-style sessions focusing on rapid innovation and ideation. As a result, we were able to outline core challenges and identify a ‘solution thread’; the output was highly successful leading to a number of innovative, evidence-based ideas.
3. More realistic remote concept testing
It is often taken for granted that concept testing should happen face-to-face. After all, what better way to see aspects of a potential solution in action than by watching potential users interrogate it? The problem with this model, however, is that it overlooks two key things: firstly, that digital concepts are far better suited to testing in digital environments; and secondly, that face-to-face sessions run the risk of excluding those most in need, since these are the people who are unlikely to make it to a live session.
Combine this with the fact that you won’t actually be observing people using the concept in the environment that they will most likely engage with it, and there is a pretty big data gap.
Remote sessions – which guide participants through various concepts on-screen – help improve the speed of assessment and can be introduced to add a series of reviews rather than a single session. This can aid the speed of the development and launch new concepts within the same budget and time frame, with the added benefit of seeing the solution used in the right environment.
Using a combination of video recording and on-screen activity tracking, digital observation can also be far more effective than in-person sessions, enabling a clearer view of what aspects participants find most engaging; what they dwell on, and what they skim over.
The case for remote research
Remote and virtual research deliver improvements to both the end results, as well as those taking part in the project. The research process is fundamentally the same, you just operate via a slightly different method. You still retain focus on the same key principles, and you still establish a detailed list of requirements for your solution.
While the current crisis may be forcing your hand into new ways of working, there are great solutions out there to help critical research keep moving. At S3 Connected Health, we are experienced in delivering the best research, ideation, and innovation via remote and virtual practices.
Now is the time to rethink your approach, make improvements to your current ways of working, and challenge the existing norms for the longer term – and for the benefit of all those involved, including, most importantly, the end-users of your digital health solutions.
Sinéad NíMhurchadha, PhD
Senior Healthcare Consultant
S3 Connected Health
Want to find out more about running remote sessions?
We’ve lots of experience in running examples like those referenced above, so please do get in touch with our consultancy team here who will be delighted to help you keep your research practices running.