Getting Inside the Patient - Part 1

by Tim Irfan | Sep 1, 2017

Deeper Insights on Burden of Disease Yield Better Patient Care

When a deep understanding of a patient’s experience with a health condition is needed, ethnographic research offers an optimal approach. Through ethnography, we are able to not only walk in a patient's shoes, but also see the world through their eyes. By observing real life behavior within a person’s ecosystem, we better understand how a health condition is adapted into his or her life. Through expert analysis and commercial expertise, insights gained from ethnographies truly enable our clients to become more patient-centric.

Traditional ethnography uses an ethnographer to silently observe the patient in his or her own ecosystem, detailing how they are coping and dealing with life as a patient and identifying their spoken and unspoken needs in everyday life.

With the advent of technology, traditional ethnography has evolved and is now enriched through the collection of sophisticated patient biometric measurements and recordings of observed real life situations by caregivers, as well as an active collection of the voice of the patient through digital voice and video recordings. These complex and conceptual snapshots of real life cannot be answered through a simple survey or a qualitative research approach. It's through observational (patient-based evidence) and active (voice of the patient) methods that the collection, analysis and interpretation of the data into meaningful and commercially impactful insights can be achieved.  

In the majority of today’s ethnographies, the overarching goal is to understand the true burden of disease and help pharmaceutical companies develop more relevant patient programs, "beyond the pill solutions", that put the patient at the center of drug development.

Ethnography Delivers Clear Advantages

You cannot get closer to a patient, his or her living situation, day-to-day struggles, and emotional vicissitudes than via ethnographic research. This broad spectrum approach reflects not just a patient; it reflects a human being with feelings, dreams and hopes. Being able to leverage the insights gained from this holistic image holds competitive advantages by focusing on the patient and truly understanding the patient as a person; thus identifying unmet needs and providing improved patient support and medications.

Latent needs grounded in real life cannot be uncovered in traditional qualitative or quantitative interviews. Even if a patient truly feels comfortable sharing deep and personal revelations, in nearly all cases, it's just not possible. Latent needs are in the subconscious and cannot be verbalized. While projective techniques in qualitative research come the closest to understanding latent needs, it's only through the integration of observing real life behavior and the active collection of thoughts, hopes, opinions and perceptions that we can truly realize the latent, and non-latent needs.

In addition, ethnography has the power to take into account the whole surroundings of patients, which no other research technique can accomplish. These unspoken dimensions, together with self-reported recordings, go beyond what a traditional interview can achieve.

The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts.

Ethnography is a fantastic tool for gaining very deep insights into the true burden of a disease from the patient's point of view. It requires careful planning, a team steeped with expertise, and the willingness to commit to the research – just as the patients do.

It's possible to uncover hidden facts, or invisible symptoms, that allow a pharmaceutical company to approach the patient in a new way that's both meaningful and helpful to the patient, and worthwhile for the company. A win-win situation that we should see more often!


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