By: Rebecca Herson
I was intrigued by a recent post on Pharmalot, summarizing an extensive report by Communications Media that surveyed over 600 physicians about what they would like to receive from pharmaceutical companies. By far the largest group of respondents answered “None/ Don’t Know.” Since so many peopled answered this way, of course the natural follow up is – how many meant “none” and how many just “don’t know” what to ask for?
While I am in favor of surveys as one method of intelligence gathering, this exposes one of the inherent flaws in surveys – that the questions and answers are pre-determined. Anyone who has ever run a survey will tell you that once you are asking so many people the questions, partway through the responses you may wish you’d asked different questions, or just worded them differently. Of course, with experience, you can diminish the frequency of mid-survey remorse, but still, the surveyor is limited by the very method itself – structured questions with requested answers. Even when the answers are completely open-ended, just the way the question is asked will influence the answers you will get. This is the heart of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle – or the so-called “observer effect” - you cannot measure something without having an effect on the very thing you are measuring.
This is the beauty of social media analysis: there’s no need to determine questions in advance. People simply go online and share their experiences, in a completely unstructured manner. They ask each other questions, request support, share opinions and experiences. If you use a system like Treato – or even a basic Internet search – you can simply eavesdrop on the discussions people are having online, and gather insights from that.
Getting back to the doctors who, from their answers, clearly wanted materials from pharma companies that will help their patients, like education and drug samples. For those who don’t know what will help their patients the most and answered “don’t know,” the voice of the patient is out there, on health forums and blogs. You don’t even have to ask them “what would help you the most,” patients are volunteering the answer to this and so many other questions.