Tips to Conduct Market Research with Doctors and Physicians

Thinking about conducting market research doctors or physicians? There may not be a more challenging audience to reach and receive feedback from. Doctors are very busy and focus their time on assisting and guiding patients. Trying to squeeze in a survey or short conversation for research purposes can prove very difficult for a doctor.

However, our healthcare market research company is here to help. The tips below will help guide your team to ensure your project is set up for success and you approach it the right way. When it comes to a challenging audience, you will likely not get a second chance to collect feedback.

There are several tips our team has learned over the years when dealing with doctors and physicians. These tips are a culmination of surveys and interviews we have conducted.

The tips offer advice around the scope of your market research, the methodology to choose, the rewards, and the scheduling. Use these tips to guide your team or organization on your next market research study.

Conducting market research with doctors or physicians?

We'll talk about 5 factors to keep in mind to set your project up for success.

Tips to Conduct Market Research with Doctors and Physicians

Before we get into the tips to assist with your market research, let's spend a little time discussing the process.

The process to conduct market research should follow a structured path.

No experience with market research? That's okay.

Here is what the step-by-step approach looks like.

  1. Proposal: this is a formal request to a market research company to propose a scope.
  2. Kickoff: once you decide on a partner, hold a kickoff meeting to finalize objectives.
  3. Workplan: this outlines the approach with timelines, responsible parties, and tasks.
  4. Instrument design: this is the structuring of the guide or the survey.
  5. Testing: it always make sense to test the instrument internally or with live respondents.
  6. Fieldwork: once tested, you are ready to begin full fieldwork for the interviews or surveys.
  7. Analysis: this begins once responses begin rolling in and after data collection is complete.
  8. Reporting: this includes a summary of themes and question-by-question breakdown.
  9. Debrief: your healthcare market research partner meets with your team to discuss findings.
  10. Action items: these are the recommendations and strategy suggested based on the data.

There are 2 paths to explore in terms of healthcare market research. This includes (1) qualitative market research and (2) quantitative market research.

Qualitative market research is typically the first step prior to quantitative. Here are the 4 golden rules as to why qualitative research is conducted before quantitative research.

① Qualitative provides perspective and opportunities to ask why

② Qualitative offers the option to be fully exhaustive with lists prior to a survey.

③ Qualitative uncovers findings and opportunities to dig deeper in follow-up phases.

④ Qualitative offers time to digest, reexamine, and refocus the research.

Before you jump right into quantitative market research, considering completing some qualitative healthcare research first. A simple qualitative study could be as simple as 5 to 10 interviews with doctors to test out your survey. This would be followed by a full survey with hundreds of responses from doctors.

When conducting market research with doctors and physicians here are some tips to follow and abide by.

Tip 1: Keep it as short as possible.

We all know one thing: doctors are very busy. Their number one goal in their profession is to help patients. Unfortunately their goals do not revolve around taking surveys and participating in interviews. Knowing this, it is critical to keep your engagement as short as possible.

Because of this, doctors and physicians often incur higher refusal rates than other business or consumer audiences. Depending on the time of the year, the refusal to assist with market research could be higher than others.

For some professions doctors end up being really busy towards the end of the year (November and December) because patients are using up their final dollars as part of their healthcare plan before the deductible resets in January.

If patients use up their deductible, they are more apt to go see a doctor or physician at the end of the year and book an appointment. This causes a lot of appointment setting and requests at the end of the year. This makes it difficult for a doctor to pull away to complete an interview, phone survey, or online survey.

All in all, it is important to keep the market research as short as possible. Surveys need to be direct and cover the core criteria. If possible, aim for 5 minutes or less. If you end up asking a 15 minute or 30 minute survey you'll likely have to pay a lot in rewards to receive responses.

Similarly, with a phone interview, keep the engagement to 10 minutes to 15 minutes. Again, extending this beyond 30 minutes or closer to an hour will not only hurt you from a lower participation rate but also require much higher rewards.

Some of you are likely thinking, "I have a lot of objectives and goals. There is no way I can get all of my answers in a 10 minute phone interview."

If you are in this boat, you need to keep the doctor perspective in mind.

$100 for a 60 minute phone interview? No thanks.

Are they more apt to participate in a 10 minute phone interview or 60 minute phone interview?

Are they more apt to participate in a 5 minute survey or 30 minute survey?

If you need a lot of feedback, think about the following 2 options:

(1) Chunk down your questions to cover only the core criteria, trim the fat.
(2) Think about splitting the research into 2 or 3 waves, each shorter in duration.

Recap of Tip 1

  • Keep it simple, doctors are very busy.
  • High refusal rates with doctors.
  • Try to shy away from end-of-the-year research.
  • Surveys need to be short (10 minutes, 5 minutes, or less).
  • Phone interviews need to be short (15 minutes, 10 minutes or less).
  • Not long enough? Prioritize your objectives or split the research into several waves.

Tip 2: Work around the doctors' schedules, do not force them to work around you.

This is an important one and one that a lot of market research firms simply do not get and it grinds our gears. The lack of flexibility from other market research firms is not only true in healthcare research but other industries as well.

When you are trying to schedule a 15 minute interview with a physician please do not offer them a small window to participate. There are a lot of moderators and interviewers out there who only want to work from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and they are completely unwilling to bend beyond those times.

Unfortunately, these times slots often don't work for doctors. You must be willing to be flexible and offer after-hour time slots even if this is an inconvenience for you.

We often schedule a lot of our phone interviews after-hours. If these times are more convenient than daytime business hours for participants we'll oblige even if it is as late as 9:00 or 10:00 p.m.

Heck, I've even completed interviews for a global manufacturing firm with participants in India at 3:00 a.m. Whatever it takes.

This cannot be hammered home enough for healthcare. It is important for you as the market research team to accommodate the availability of the doctor not for the doctor to accommodate the availability of the market researcher.

Please keep this perspective in mind.

Recap of Tip 2

  • Work around the doctors' schedules, not your schedule.
  • This will likely require interviews booked before hours (7:00 a.m.) or after-hours (8:00 p.m.)
  • Accommodate the doctor as much as possible (calling back at another time, etc.)

Tip 3: Offer large rewards.

If you want to talk to physicians or doctors, you'll have to pay. You cannot expect to conduct a survey, interviews, or focus groups with this audience and not expect to pay significant rewards.

Fact is fact, doctors run a business just like everyone else.

If they are asked to participate in a market research study, many will do the simple math. "If I get paid $500 per hour to deal with patients, why would I step away for 1-hour to do an interview with a healthcare market research company for $100?"

If you are planning to conduct market research with this audience, expect to pay.

Phone interviews typically range in rewards from $200 to $250+. Survey rewards are often built into the cost per complete with your healthcare panel vendor. The cost per completed response for surveys can range upwards of $40, $50, or more. This adds up if you are looking to obtain 400 survey responses.

Recap of Tip 3

  • Remember: Doctors run a business just like everyone else.
  • Doctors will run the simple math: revenue from a patient for 1-hour vs. the research.
  • Expect to pay $200 to $250 at a minimum for a phone interview.
  • Expect to pay $40+ per survey complete with doctors. This includes rewards.

Tip 4: Conduct the research individually, not in groups.

The fourth tip for conducting market research with doctors points to the methodology. Because doctors are very busy it is difficult if not impossible to find a window of time where multiple doctors would be available.

Think about in-person focus groups. If a doctor is available at 2:00 p.m. for a focus group, chances are the 7 other participants will not be. If 2 doctors are available at 7:00 p.m. for a focus group, chances are the other 5 are not. Coordinating multiple doctors to show-up for a specific time slot is very difficult.

This becomes a little easier with online focus group research than in-person. With online focus groups, the doctors would not have to leave their office or their laptop to participate. The doctor is required to sign-in several times during the day and review comments, post new questions, and post answers. This makes the focus group approach slightly more feasible than in-person focus groups.

The other reason to be concerned with group participation is doctors are often unwilling to share feedback with other physicians who they may consider to be competition.

Putting together a group discussion with dentists in a specific market area to talk about marketing strategies, obtaining new patients, and improving the patient experience would become impossible.

The discussion would not be productive because doctors would fear sharing information which could be used against them.

Think about doing one-on-one research instead of group research for a variety of reasons. The individualized market research offers several benefits.

Therefore one-on-one and individualized settings for market research is preferred when working with doctors and physicians. This allows the moderator to separate feedback individually and promise anonymity and confidentiality with the responses.

Something that is not so easy when the room is filled with 11 competitors.

Recap of Tip 4

  • Steer away from group settings with physicians.
  • Difficult to find one common time for all, some do not want to talk with competition.
  • Online focus groups or bulletin boards can be a better fit.
  • Suggest doing 1-on-1 market research to offer anonymity and confidentiality.
  • Individual interviews also offer more flexibility for scheduling.


Tip 5: Use a vetted email list or vendor to recruit.

Consider using a market research panel. Our market research company partners with several healthcare panel companies to administer surveys and manage qualitative recruitment.

Our firm receives contracted reduced rates from these panel companies because of the volume of work we complete with the list vendors.

Cold calling a doctor or physician to participate in a market research will likely yield poor results. Very frankly, there are a lot of doctors who simply will not and have never participated in market research. This won't change from one phone call no matter how good your qualitative recruiter is.

Dialing offices to schedule doctor interviews or booking them for focus groups incurs a very low qualification rate. Even if the doctor may be interested, chances are your call will never make it past the gatekeeper.

Calling physician offices offers a very low return. There is a slim chance you will get through the gatekeeper and actually have any time with the physician to generate interest in the market research.

These administrative employees field phone calls for doctors and are skilled at deflecting sales vendors and research recruiters alike. Remember, they likely receive several of these sales calls per day and the chance of any one of them making it to the doctor are slim to none.

The best case scenario you can hope for during a phone call is the administrative assistance requesting more information to pass to the doctor. In this scenario you either fax or email a one-pager to the office in hopes the person will forward it along to the doctor or put it on his or her desk.

Again, the likelihood of this occurring is minimal. The front office often uses the "send me something" approach as a simple way of getting off the phone with the recruiter.

Healthcare panel vendors are essentially email list companies who offer a vetted list of doctors and physicians who are willing to participate in market research.

These doctors have raised their hand and said, "If you need to collect feedback, I am willing to offer my thoughts and opinion".

This panel vendor route is likely the only feasible and cost-effective route to go when conducting market research with doctors.

Although still costly, it is far less expensive than hiring a call center to cold call doctor offices. It will also take much less time to recruit than a typical call center project which could last months.

Panel vendor not an option?

If the study is small and regional in-nature and no healthcare panel exists, you may want to explore visiting the offices in-person. This can often increase the chances of face time with the physician over a generic phone call.

Try to either schedule these prior or stop in-person and bring some giveaways. A simple tactic here is to do a lunch and learn or drop off lunch. This may give you a few minutes to chat with the physician or doctor staff to generate interest.

When you think about the time and cost involved with in-person visits like this, it adds up quickly. We would not recommend this for a project with a lot of interviews or a survey.

If you are simply looking to conduct 4 or 5 interviews with local cardiologists or dentists in a region, this may be feasible.

Recap of Tip 5

  • Go the healthcare panel vendor route if feasible.
  • Panel vendors offer options for recruitment and survey feedback.
  • Conducting cold calls to offices to recruit is not recommended.
  • If scope is small enough, consider in-person visits or lunch and learns.


Conducting market research with doctors and physicians is no easy task. Among the B2B audiences you try to reach, this healthcare audience is among the most strapped for time.

Therefore it is critically important to approach this audience correctly. Trying to launch a study without using these tips will likely result in failure.

Here are the 5 tips to keep in mind:

① Keep it as short as possible.
② Work around the doctors' schedules, do not force them to work around you.
③ Offer large rewards.
④ Conduct the research individually, not in groups.
⑤ Use a vetted email list or vendor to recruit.

Contact Drive Research for More Information

Drive Research is a market research company in Upstate New York. Our team conducts doctor and physician market research across the country and across the world.

These tips were derived from a recent global interview and survey project conducted with cardiologists and emergency department (ED) physicians. This healthcare market research project was conducted across the United States and in Spain, Germany, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom.

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