KANTAR HEALTH BLOG

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Getting Inside the Patient – Part 2

by Tim Irfan | Oct 6, 2017

THE POWER OF ETHNOGRAPHIC RESEARCH 

Operational and Analytical Excellence Key 
To Overcoming Challenges, Leveraging Technology and Maximizing Success

The process of setting up an ethnographic study can be cumbersome – recruiting, regulatory and data privacy issues all need to be carefully and precisely addressed.

Finding patients who are willing to participate for several days is not easy and requires an in-depth briefing and clear explanation of what's needed from patients and why this action benefits the community.

Moreover, satisfying data privacy laws and regulations in multiple countries can be challenging as well. There are varying views of what is considered personal data, from a photo to the sound of someone’s voice. In addition, the storage and transfer of this personal data is highly sensitive and requires written consent from participants.

Finally, with technology respondents’ age and mental aptitude can become a barrier. What may seem simple for some might be hard to comprehend for a senior citizen or someone who is struggling with a poor quality of life due to his or her medical status.

Considerations for Selecting Technologies 

Technology has enabled ethnography to be more real life, bringing an added layer of meaning to the learnings and ensuring insights are brought forward to a commercial apex.

With technology, patients do not have to live in front of the ethnographer, a complete stranger, but can continue living life without any disturbances. Of course, those of us who have conducted traditional ethnographies know that the first several days of observing your subject can and must be written off and ignored due to the change in the subjects behavior due to being observed.  With technology we ethnographers no longer need to worry about an unrealistic view, or the 'waste" of the initial start of the study. We're now able to observe without bias and quickly gain the line of sight into the person’s life and health experience.

Wearable devices are an essential addition to ethnography as they capture passive biometric data that can be combined later with the active recordings of the patients.

Smartphones have been a game changer as people carry them wherever they go. It makes perfect sense to include smartphones in the ethnography because they empower patients to be their own ethnographer. Through a smartphone app, they can leave audio comments, upload videos or photos, and fill out diaries or in-the-moment surveys.

Of course, such technology as described is not suitable for every indication or patient population. Respondents need a certain level of proficiency to understand and use the technology involved in the research. Better yet, they should be comfortable using technology prior to the study.  However, we know from experience that in-person training on new technology is also possible.

Success Factors for Ethnographic Research

In all, the goal of the study needs to be very clear. This is the red thread that ties together and demands the research design, the material design, the briefing of the patients and, of course, the analysis.

Operational and analytical excellence is key. An expert team that has proven it can master these challenges can bring forward fantastic results!

Through ethnography many data are generated and it requires time and experience to find meaningful data points. Yet, often the most overlooked and underestimated skill is being able to identify the seemingly unimportant data points and integrate them with others to find the “a ha” insights.

For the inexperienced, the sheer volume of data points gained through an ethnographic study can be overwhelming and becoming sidetracked in the analysis is common. Having an experienced analytical team is pivotal for giving ethnography meaning!

Ensuring the research design of a "continuous stream of information" is being collected in the right way is another key success factor. Are patients completing their in-the-moment surveys as they should? Are they wearing their Fitbit device? Do they have it charged? Do they understand how often it needs to charged? Do they correctly know how to upload recordings or photos?  It's easy to neglect these parts, but without them, the core beauty of modern-day ethnography is lost. 

Moving forward in the analytical phase can be very tricky and requires a high aptitude and skilled team to breakdown observations and learnings into meaning and put them into a cultural and personal context. Each person needs to be looked at individually and holistically before building up to generalizations and overarching insights. A deep understanding of anthropology, socially or psychology is necessary to make the complex and conceptual learnings into actionable insights.

 

 

 

 

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