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Selecting a Fieldwork Agency for Healthcare Projects

I strongly recommending that when commissioning pharmaceutical market research you always ensure your fieldwork is being delivered by a specialist healthcare fieldwork agency as you will benefit from certainty that ethical and legal guidelines are adhered too; confidence that your respondents are professionally sourced and appropriate for the project; and ensure courteous treatment of respondents and professional representation of your research.


I have spent much of my career in market research and a significant part of that was spent client side in the pharmaceutical industry supporting brand/marketing teams, business development teams and strategic corporate initiatives. When commissioning projects I was always concerned about a number of things, getting the objectives clearly articulated, ensuring we could meet the timelines, managing the internal and external stakeholders and of course making sure the research delivered addressed the objectives and informed decision making. I always trusted my agencies to deliver research on time, to the appropriate quality, ensuring all codes of practice, ethical guidelines and adverse event reporting guidelines were rigidly adhered too and that their interaction with respondents, be they Health Care Professionals, Payors or Patients did not cause annoyance or worse anger from people who were really helping us by participating in market research. Often I did not give much thought as to how the fieldwork would actually be delivered. Generally though when we had issues with a project, either delayed timelines, incomplete samples or on very rare occasions complaints from respondents it was because there had been a problem with the fieldwork.

Best practice

Many pharmaceutical companies now insist that their market research agencies declare if they will be sub-contacting their fieldwork and to whom (most agencies will sub-contract fieldwork; some will do so all the time, others just for “difficult” projects). This I would suggest really is a best practice all pharmaceutical companies should adhere too. You do need to know who is working on your project.

Benefits of a specialist healthcare agency

You need the confidence that your fieldwork agency is a specialist healthcare agency and that they strictly adhere to generally accepted industry standards and practices per country, including ESOMAR, EphMRA and for the UK the BHBIA/APBI legal and ethical guidelines as well as the adverse event guidelines. You need to be certain that they understand things such as what are the implications and practicalities of the Loi Bertrand in France; what the new ABPI requirements for disclosing payments to HCPs mean for pharma companies, market research agencies and fieldwork companies; what the practicalities of the Dienstherrengenehmigung DHG in Germany entail. It is highly likely a consumer or general fieldwork agency will not be aware of the guidelines specific to healthcare research and so will not knowingly be complying with them. Now that I work on the fieldwork side I find it inexplicable as to why we are so often asked to sort out recruitment issues caused by non specialist fieldwork agencies that have overpromised; and find it inexcusable that they often do not have the basics in place such as signed BHBIA clause 20 forms from respondents. I most certainly would not want to stand in front of a marketing or medical director and explain for example why adverse event or ABPI guidelines have not been strictly adhered too.

Almost as importantly a specialist healthcare fieldwork agency should be able to give advice on feasible sample sizes, appropriate respondents and methodologies per market and so avoid difficult conversations about delayed timelines, incomplete samples or holes in the data because the correct respondents were not included in the sample. You also need to be sure that the respondents you have in your study do actually meet the criteria. A specialist fieldwork agency will make sure that HCPs and patients do actually screen in. Sometimes patients for quantitative studies are sourced from consumer panels, with people who self-declare that they have a certain condition or are prescribed a particular medication. Healthcare agencies can usually source patients by more targeted approaches, but if they do go down this route then will usually apply a second level of screening to weed out “professional market research responders”.

It is also key that the respondents are treated well and courteously, at the end of the day your agency and their fieldwork partner is representing your company and must represent you professionally. At Medicys for example we always pay incentives within 3-5 working days of the interview, we go to great efforts not to reschedule interviews, but if we have to we always aim to communicate this in person and explain the reasons. When recruiting from lists we will not pester respondents, if after 3 attempts to schedule an interview we have not succeeded, then we deem the respondent to have declined. It sounds simple, to some extent it is, and the result is happy respondents who will take part in research again and who have a good impression of the company commissioning the research.


In summary I am strongly recommending that when commissioning pharmaceutical market research you always ensure your fieldwork is being delivered by a specialist healthcare fieldwork agency as you will benefit from:

  • Certainty that ethical and legal guidelines are adhered too
  • Confidence that the respondents are professionally sourced and appropriate for the project
  • Courteous treatment of respondents and professional representation of your research

To download the white paper please click on the link - Medicys White Paper - selecting a fieldwork partner