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Challenges of International Qualitative Research in Healthcare

The global importance of qualitative research in healthcare continues to grow. The once-skeptical industry now clearly recognizes the benefits of having access to qualitative insights – and understanding the ‘why’ behind the numbers. Many believe, myself included, that the pandemic has only increased the need for qualitative research in healthcare.

When done correctly, qualitative research captures the thoughts and experiences of the individual, which help researchers draw conclusions about a larger sample group. In the future, qualitative insights will drive changes in the healthcare space due to the rich and actionable insights they produce.

That said, there can be challenges to fully capturing the benefits of qualitative research. The primary challenge is the heavy burden placed on the researcher – which also means that the researcher’s qualitative skill and experience will primarily determine project success.

To meet our clients’ current and future needs, KJT has established a dedicated qualitative offering, the foundation of which is our team of experienced and talented qualitative experts. KJT’s investment in this team means that we can offer clients exceptional qualitative research both in the US and abroad – something few in market research can claim.

This is an important distinction because US-based healthcare clients are now recognizing the importance of foreign markets, driving a growing interest in international qualitative research. They increasingly require expert support to mitigate the challenges of conducting qualitative research outside of the US, such as:

Healthcare System Diversity: Healthcare systems are large and deeply complex, presenting significant challenges for market researchers. Developing a deep understanding of domestic healthcare systems does not mean that this knowledge is relevant to those outside the US. A country’s political, economic, and social characteristics heavily influence its healthcare systems, which allows for a great deal of diversity in structures, lexicons, and funding types.

Data Protection and Regulatory Issues: Working in international markets means navigating multiple data protection regulations. The most prominent example is the GDPR, which, among many other things, regulates the transfer of personal data outside the EU and EEA areas. With breaches of GDPR resulting in fines of up to 4% of a company’s annual revenues, ensuring compliance is absolutely critical when conducting qualitative research internationally.

Recruiting International Respondents: Qualitative recruitment for domestic healthcare projects is already resource heavy. Healthcare respondents are typically from a limited group who are already time-constrained. Successful recruitment relies on highly experienced individuals who have developed professional networks to quickly identify and engage relevant respondents willing to contribute to the research. Most US recruiters do not have strong experience and networks internationally, which means they must rely on external recruitment companies from a specific country or region.

Working with International Moderators: The value of the data is highly dependent on the quality of the moderator. Working in international markets often presents linguistic challenges, with internal moderators unable to speak in the respondent’s native language. Market Research companies tend to recruit in-country moderators who complete the interviews, translate the transcripts, and supply the data for analysis. External researchers can raise quality control issues around the moderating and the data it produces, which can present significant challenges on the project backend.

Applying Context to the Analysis: Qualitative research projects in healthcare often deal with complex issues that often present the researcher with several challenges. The main challenge is that the skills of the researchers will hugely influence the quality of the insights drawn from the data. And qualitative insights rely heavily on the researcher’s ability to account for the context in which the respondents made their statements. This requires the researcher to have at least a moderate understanding of the geography and healthcare systems within it.

Market research companies need to take steps to navigate these challenges before undertaking international research to ensure they can meet the needs of their clients. So, what does KJT do to overcome these challenges?

  • Invest in staff training focused on international healthcare systems and regulations. The KJT qualitative team has access to training resources both internally and externally. Employees get the time and space needed to develop their knowledge while also passing along what they have learned to their colleagues.
  • Build strength through staff diversity by recognizing the benefits of hiring and retaining staff from different cultural and professional backgrounds. KJT has talented and dedicated employees who bring a unique perspective and skillset to their roles at KJT. For example, coming from Scotland, I offer our clients a deep understanding of healthcare systems across the UK’s four nations in addition to my qualitative skillset.
  • Develop professional networks internationally to build confidence in international partners. KJT is fostering relationships with partners in key foreign markets. Partner relationships are grounded on open dialogue, effective and efficient communication, providing constructive feedback, and sharing in our successes.

Qualitative research and healthcare have changed in the last three years. The global pandemic has further demonstrated the interconnectivity of healthcare and the need for international exploration. Given that qualitative insights play such a vital role in the future of healthcare, we must recognize the challenges such global research presents and implement the solutions. KJT is taking the necessary steps to ensure that we continue to meet our clients’ needs no matter where the research takes place.