Despite advances in data collection techniques and technology over the years, it has remained hard for global pharma to get immediate detailed, qualitative insights into prescribing rationale at the patient level, particularly where these prescription decisions are made by hospital specialists. This is an area where mobile research is now demonstrating clear advantages, because of functionality afforded by smartphone technology and the ubiquity of smartphones amongst physicians and in the clinical setting.
We have been conducting mobile research with a number of pharma companies now across a range of therapy areas, including COPD and multiple oncology indications. We have found that by using the functionalities afforded by mobile phones, we have been able to collect rich, detailed information directly at the point of prescription, when the physician has just seen a patient and has made the decision about the best course of treatment for them.
I have been considering the main advantages of mobile and app-based research techniques in pharmaceutical research:
Engaging and targeted research
Mobile phone apps are great for engaging people. People undoubtedly want to engage with their phone or tablet device; because the interaction is rewarding and often provides some form of instant gratification in the form of intercommunication. In our studies, respondents said they really enjoyed participating in the research via the mobile app.
With mobile, you can also have screener-based control of whom the research targets – similar to most forms of qualitative research – but with a greater geographical reach. Mobile research can target prescribers of a specific product, or treaters of a specific disease – perhaps a rare disease. In the latter case, research can be set up so that data is captured immediately on those rare occasions when a patient presents, rather than relying on periodical reporting, which may not support clear recollection of the patient interaction.
Another benefit is that mobile research can be conducted wherever mobile devices go. This is almost anywhere and certainly includes the clinical environment, where physicians are already making extensive use of apps for reference purposes. So, for the first time, it is now possible to record physicians' thoughts and actions in the moment in which these are formed and executed.
Rich and immediate data collection
Mobile devices are inherently good at making the input of data easy, with touch-screen technology facilitating responses to closed and numeric questions. But the real advantages come when you begin to build on the devices' capabilities to record audio and video material. When a physician explains a treatment decision verbally and in detail at the moment that decision has been made, it is arguably a level of quality of insight that we have not previously been able to achieve.
Once this is done mobile devices are perfectly set up to send data immediately after collection. Databases and admin panels collate the data and make it available in real time, including audio or video formats.
Mobile research can be carried out in emerging markets
The penetration of mobile phones in emerging markets is very high, especially in parts of Asia and South America. In some markets, mobile internet is bypassing the desktop phase that developed markets are now leaving behind.
The more I think about the technical capabilities offered by mobile devices and their presence in situations of key interest to us as market researchers, the more possibilities can be seen for their potential use, either as stand-alone studies, or to augment traditional research. In the pharmaceutical industry, there are a number of obvious applications where mobile research would add value such as in devices testing, conference research and post-launch campaign testing. I look forward to seeing where this new methodology takes us in the future.