The Right Insights for Healthcare Reform: The Power of Qualitative Research

If you want to improve healthcare, it helps to know – it is essential to understand – what the public thinks about this issue.

Numbers only reveal a chapter (or two) in this epic tale about individual needs, institutional wants and industry requirements. Those figures do not represent what people think about this subject; they do not express what men and women feel about this matter.

To try to reform healthcare without this information is folly, because qualitative research is critical to uncovering the interests and desires of a diversity of patients, from the young to the aged, from the active to the barely ambulatory, from the strong to the weak, from the stout to the sick.

According to Jeff Hirsch, Founder and President of The Right Brain Studio, a marketing insights company: “Qualitative research is critical to every business, but especially to healthcare. In an industry guided by actuaries and Big Data, it is easy to forget that markets are comprised of millions of individual stories, each of which carries enormous impact on a personal level.

“The narrative of these stories concerns quality of life, how people actually feel emotionally and physically on a daily basis. It is no exaggeration to say that they often concern life and death issues. Looking into the eyes of your customers, listening to their hopes and dreams, feeling their pain and the struggles of their day-to-day existence – these forces remind us of our greater purpose in business.”

For example: It is one thing to study the data on long wait times for customer service calls, blocked access to needed medications or trouble processing claims. It is quite another to be in the moment with people, and actually feel what they are going through.

Jeff’s analysis is the result of decades of work for some of the nation’s largest healthcare companies, so his counsel is invaluable to insurers and providers that need to refine – no, that must revolutionize – the overall experience of buying or using healthcare.

To achieve that goal, with greater savings for many and better service for all, demands more awareness of the value of community. It means there should be a premium on gathering practical, actionable material rather than the sort of academic content that lacks the urgency this discipline deserves.

“Get into the communities you serve. We sometimes live in our ivory towers, gaining our understanding of target markets through reading, number crunching and other intellectual processes. But just as it is important to get close-up and personal with consumers in qualitative research, it is equally valuable to get into the communities where these individuals live.”

“Walk the streets, eat in the restaurants, talk to people you encounter. Get into the clinics and visit local agents. This can also be done on a more formal basis through ethnographic research, interviews with people in their homes or local establishments.”

Qualitative research can yield this intelligence, but it takes a wise moderator – it calls for a prudent expert – to make these studies intelligible and compelling.

With the right mindset (or by using more of the right side of the brain, so to speak), we can make healthcare better for millions of Americans. The stakes are too high, and the rewards are too significant, for us not put quality first.