21 November 2018

Market Research with Oncology Patients

Market research with onocology patients, even those with metastatic or terminal diagnosis is not out of the question but requires sensitivity and flexibility from us as a research agency and from our clients. Here we outline some key considerations when conducting research with this patient population.

Oncology is an exciting and fast-moving therapy area in which the therapy algorithms frequently evolving as new innovative medicines are approved. Of the 6,794 Phase 1 to 3 clinical trials initiated in 2017, approximately 40% of them were oncology (2,868) trials. With such as robust pipeline and increasing personalisation of therapies it is little wonder that there is such demand from pharmaceutical companies for market research with oncology patients. From a market research perspective personalisation creates the challenge of small patient populations and therefore relatively small sample sizes. This means that more so than in other indications each participant is incredibly valuable and we need to be considerate of both their time and their needs.

Not all research topics are suitable

Many oncology patients give their time to research in the hope that it will help others in their situation. We must be respectful of this altruism and be transparent about the objectives of the research. Importantly, we must have a really good reason for asking oncology patients for their precious time when they may only have months of life. Feedback on packaging for example is not a good use of their time. But, understanding what it is like to live with the condition, exploring their journey and the needs they had along the way is a good reason. Crucially in oncology research, or any research with terminal patients, we must not ask them to consider their future needs.

Choose a flexible methodology

When designing the research, it is important to consider the needs and limitations of the target patient population. Is it appropriate to conduct research at a central location? Will the participant feel more comfortable at home or via video chat? Should the interview be run as a duo with a caregiver?

Building in flexibility into the fieldwork schedule avoids client disappointment when interviews need to be rearranged at short notice. We should try to be adaptable and considerate to research participants effectively communicating at recruitment that we will work with them to find a suitable time and location for the research. And whilst we communicate to all participants that they will not be penalised for cancelling the interview or not wishing to answer certain questions this is even more important for an oncology population.

Be sensitive but not overly familiar

It is our duty as moderators to take a sensitive, but neutral position when conducting research. This means that we will never provide advice or input personally into the discussion, whilst ensuring that our tone is open and understanding. It is also our responsibility to read the discussion carefully. If a participant is avoiding answering a certain question we should not push them to go deeper into this area so that we do not cause any upset.

When discussing such sensitive topics with patients they can often mistake the researcher for someone who is able to provide health advice. This is not our role and as highly trained researchers we must sensitively handle this situation.

As researchers we are very privileged that patients open up to us during market research interviews. We love to hear their stories and hope that the insights we provide to our client will help support other patients on their journey.

If you are considering research with oncology or other vulnerable patients please get in touch to discuss how we can effectively support your research needs.