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Global Healthcare 2008 - Consumer Choice

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Consumers in the 21st century demand a holistic approach to health and well-being. They not only make informed choices when it comes to healthcare and pharmaceutical purchases, they actively take measures to prevent illness. Meeting the needs of consumers who want to lead healthy lifestyles has become big business giving rise to self-medication, lifestyle products, alternative medicine and a thriving functional food industry.

The ESOMAR Global Healthcare 2008 conference focuses on the complex decision making process of the contemporary consumer and the way he / she acts to prevent and treat illnesses.
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"Market research in healthcare always presents unique challenges to the researcher. After all, there are very few sectors in which consumers are called upon to make literally life-or-death decisions based on the limited knowledge and understanding of a layman. Healthcare is central to the human experience in the way that few other industries are.

This complexity and uniqueness was reflected in the research presented at ESOMAR’s Global Healthcare 2008 conference, which took place in February in Rome. The research presented covered various facets of the healthcare industry, beginning with consumers’ decision making processes, consumers’ relationships with brands, consumer dialogue, and the consumer experience.

While there was great variety in the research topics and methodologies presented, there were several recurring themes which ran throughout. The first was that consumers’ decision making in regards to health products and services is not rational, nor is it clinically correct. Consumers often have limited knowledge of how their body works, and they often make purchasing decisions based on misconceptions, old-wives-tales, and the like. Healthcare products and services cannot be pitched to consumers as they are to clinicians. One particular example can be seen in the research paper “How Potent is My Potion?” which discussed the marketing of antacids and headache remedies. Consumers perceive acid reflux as a burning sensation; consequently, antacids are portrayed as being cooling. Consumers’ purchasing decisions are often not rational, and therefore marketing efforts must address this.

The second theme that was repeatedly seen was that of cultural differences between countries and regions. Following on the point above, consumers approach to healthcare varies greatly among cultures. In “How Potent is My Potion” the authors noted that in the West, heartburn is perceived as a burning sensation, and heartburn remedies must “put out the fire.” In India, however, heartburn is perceived as a bloated, gassy sensation. Consumers, therefore, do not respond to cooling imagery, but rather to an audible burp produced by the remedy. More explicitly, Geoff Minter’s research entitled “Contrasting Two Cultures: Consumer Choice Differences between Japan and Australia” and Balázs Kertész’s research entitled “Consumers Going Online: The Demand of Online Patient Communication” presented very clearly the impact of national and cultural differences in regards to healthcare.

The final theme was the need to be creative when conducting research and marketing in the healthcare industry. Healthcare products and services are not purchased like potato chips or shampoo. There are many individual stakeholders involved in the choice, each of whom needs to be addressed in a different way. One research paper, “Market Research as Communications Tool: Case Study on Colorectal Cancer” outlined a project conducted by Roche in Brazil which researched perceptions regarding colorectal cancer. The findings were then published widely in the media, with Roche’s name attached. Following the publication of the results, Roche saw an improvement of its position in the cancer treatment market. On the other end of the spectrum from this targeted research, Lekshmy Parameswaran and Laura Niño from Philips Design presented some of their work designing better oncology suites for hospitals. By taking a step back, shadowing staff and putting themselves in the shoes of patients, they were able to make some extremely interesting discoveries. These are integrated in to the design of the systems, allowing such systems to better take in to account the feelings and needs of patients, family members, and staff.

Given the extremely broad topics covered by the research presented at the conference, a brief review such as this cannot hope to do justice to the mind-broadening discussions that took place in the papers and at the conference. However, each and every author and presenter brought something new and stimulating to the table. This research represents the forefront of thought on market research in healthcare, and we are extremely privileged to be able to share in it."

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