How To Plan A Successful Focus Group

In the modern healthcare industry, the need for comprehensive market research has become essential for strategic decision-making and market success of medical products.

Medical device manufacturers and healthcare providers are increasingly acknowledging the power and potential of qualitative research methods to gain deep insights into customer needs and preferences.

This article provides a professional blueprint for planning impactful focus groups in the medical sector.

Our intention is to offer you practical advice and guidance to harness the power of an effective, well-managed focus group - helping you ensure your innovative medical solutions are optimal for the audiences they are designed to serve. 

 

What is a focus group?

A focus group is a qualitative research method that is used to gather information and opinions from a group of individuals on a specific topic or product.

It typically involves bringing together a small group of people who share common interests or characteristics that are relevant to the research objective.

During a focus group session, a trained moderator guides the discussion by asking open-ended questions to gain insight into the participants' thoughts, attitudes, perceptions, and experiences around the topic being researched.

By encouraging group interaction and discussion, an experienced moderator can gain an in-depth understanding of the underlying motivations and preferences of different individuals on the research objective.

Focus groups often generate rich, nuanced qualitative insights that can complement quantitative research methods and can be incredibly useful for helping to inform market research, product development, marketing strategies, and policy decisions.

 

When and why you should use focus groups in healthcare

Healthcare is a complex field, and focus groups can be an important part of your research process if you’re looking for a more in-depth understanding of behaviors and motivations than is possible from surveys or observational studies alone.

Focus groups are also effective at bringing together diverse opinions and perspectives, which can be useful when you’re trying to look at a problem or opportunity from different angles.

The group setting also encourages participants to interact with each other, leading to a rich exchange of ideas and experiences, which can often be useful in the generation of new ideas.

Focus groups are preferably used within the early stage of a medical product (process/treatment/service) development, in order to:

  • Discover unmet needs, issues, or challenges that the users are experiencing;
  • Properly test new devices and products before they are launched into the market;
  • Identify potential areas for improvement;
  • Gather feedback on marketing messages, packages, and materials;
  • Test apps and their usability;
  • Understand decision-making factors, such as cost, convenience, and effectiveness.

It’s imperative to have the right partner to help you choose the correct qualitative research method for your device, service, or treatment.

Get in touch with IDR Medical to understand the best research method for your business needs.

 

Book a FREE consultation

 

 

Some scenarios where you might consider using a focus group

In the field of healthcare and medical equipment, there are a variety of scenarios where focus groups can help enhance and improve your research process.

 

Product or service improvements

Focus groups enable direct communication and feedback from the frontline users of medical equipment or services — whether they might be patients, healthcare professionals, or caregivers.

They allow the end users of medical products to articulate their unmet needs or difficulties with current systems and devices, in their own words. This invaluable feedback, backed by first-hand experiences, enables healthcare providers or medical equipment manufacturers to modify and refine their offerings to better align with actual user needs, potentially improving patient outcomes.

 

Product development

If you’re planning to introduce a new product into the market, focus groups can be an incredibly effective strategic research tool.

They offer an opportunity to gather essential insights about user needs, preferences, and expectations, which are all important factors in designing a product that truly meets market demand.

Focus groups offer the chance to collect insights that can inform product features that may not have been considered otherwise, enhancing your product's relevance and usability.

 

Pre-launch evaluation

A focus group can be a powerful tool for obtaining initial reactions to a new medical product before it is fully launched.

By analyzing the participants' reactions and feedback, you’re able to make the necessary alterations, tweaks, or improvements to a product, increasing the likelihood of a more favorable market reception upon launch.

 

User experience testing

Focus groups can be beneficial in understanding user experiences with your medical device.

By observing participants as they interact with the product and having the opportunity to gain immediate feedback, you’re able to identify usability issues that might be missed in more controlled testing environments.

The insights gained from a focus group can help manufacturers craft medical devices that patients and healthcare professionals can use intuitively and confidently.

 

Branding and messaging

By conducting market research with your target audience in focus groups, you can gather valuable feedback about their perception of your brand, packaging, logo, taglines, and overall messaging.

This insight can help you finetune your communication strategy, enhancing credibility and building a deeper connection with your audience. In an industry where trust and reliability are paramount, this could translate into a distinct competitive advantage. 

 

What are the advantages of focus groups in the medical industry?

Focus groups can be an effective complement to your quantitative and observational research methods and can help assist product development, user experience, and the way you communicate about your product.

But what are the specific characteristics that make focus groups so effective? 

 

Non-verbal feedback

Non-verbal cues can often reveal as much, or even more, than what a participant actually says.

In a focus group, the trained moderator not only listens to the verbal responses of participants, but also observes their body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice.

These non-verbal indicators can help uncover a participant’s true feelings, helping the moderator to modify the discussion and delve deeper into opinions.

 

Ability to develop concepts and generate ideas

The lively conversations of focus groups can foster an environment that helps to generate fresh, unique ideas, which can be especially beneficial in product development and problem-solving in healthcare.

The interactive dynamic of a focus group can lead to insights that would be unlikely to surface in a traditional one-to-one interview.

 

Generation of rich and detailed data

The conversational nature of focus groups gives participants the freedom to express their views authentically, and in their own words.

They don’t have to ‘conform’ to the options offered by checkboxes or standard survey responses. Instead, participants can provide rich feedback based on their own experiences,  which can lead to more valuable data. 

 

Time-efficiency

As data can be collected from multiple participants in a single session, focus groups can be much less time-consuming than one-to-one interviews.

 

Flexibility and adaptability

Focus groups offer an element of flexibility and fluidity that isn’t present in fixed-response surveys.

An experienced focus group moderator has the ability to modify questions or the direction of discussion based on comments that are made by participants, allowing them to explore unexpected insights.

 

Participant engagement

When moderated effectively, focus groups can generate mutual understanding and trust between researchers and participants, encouraging genuine, candid conversation. This level of engagement often results in more authentic and honest feedback.

 

In-depth exploration

Focus groups allow for in-depth exploration of a particular topic or issue. Participants often feel more comfortable expressing their opinions, attitudes, and experiences more freely in a group setting, which can lead to richer and more in-depth discoveries about the research topic. 

 

Group dynamics

The group setting of a focus group encourages interaction and stimulates ideas among participants. Group members can build upon each other's thoughts, challenge assumptions, and generate new perspectives, leading to more comprehensive insights around the topic.

 

Exploration of complex issues

Focus groups are particularly useful for exploring complex topics or issues that require nuanced understanding. Participants can clarify their thoughts, share personal experiences, and discuss complex concepts, contributing to a deeper exploration of the research topic.

 

Idea generation

Focus groups can serve as idea-generation platforms. Participants can brainstorm and propose innovative solutions or ideas, which can be valuable for product development, marketing strategies, or problem-solving within healthcare. 

 

Want to learn more? Check out The Ultimate Guide On Healthcare Market Research 

 

 

The major typologies of focus groups for the healthcare sector

It’s important to select the most appropriate type of focus group based on the research objectives, target audience, and the information sought.

Each type has its advantages and limitations, and researchers should choose the approach that best aligns with their specific needs.

 

Objective:

 

  • Exploratory Focus Groups

Typically used in the early stages of research, exploratory focus groups can be important in identifying unmet clinical needs, assessing the interest for new technological solutions, or detecting market niche opportunities.

In the healthcare sector, they can be useful for identifying broad issues around a research topic before delving deeper with further research techniques.

  • Descriptive Focus Groups

These groups aim to describe and understand participants' experiences, behaviors, or attitudes regarding a specific subject.

For example, a descriptive focus group on  "the impact of COVID-19 on the patient journey" is likely to provide a lot of experiential data that highlights how pandemic measures influenced different elements of patient care, which can influence future decision-making.

  • Evaluative Focus Groups

These groups are used to evaluate and assess existing products, services, or concepts. Participants provide feedback, opinions, and suggestions for improvement, which can help refine and enhance your product offerings.

Examples might be - how does a nurse find the user interface on a particular medical device? Are doctors spending extra time figuring out a complex piece of equipment? The answers help to fine-tune and enhance the product's design and usability.

 

Size:

 

  • Standard focus group

A standard focus group usually includes around six to eight respondents and typically lasts for about two hours. Having a group of this size allows for a wide range of experiences to contribute to the discussion,  leading to more comprehensive feedback than is possible with smaller groups.

  • Mini Focus Groups

Mini-focus groups involve a smaller number of participants, typically around four to six individuals. They allow for more intimate and detailed discussions, with each participant having more of an opportunity to share their thoughts and insights.

  • Triad research

Involving just three participants, triad research is effective when discussing controversial or divisive topics in healthcare. This setup encourages participants to express contrasting views, debate them, and bounce ideas off each other, promoting a deeper understanding of complex or controversial topics.

  • Dyad research

Dyads consist of two participants, and can often lead to profound in-depth discussions - especially when the two participants hold opposing viewpoints on the subject.

Their interactions can reveal deep-seated beliefs, challenge assumptions, and uncover specific details that might be overlooked in larger group discussions.

Particularly in a medical setting, dyad research can help better comprehend how different healthcare stakeholders perceive and interact with the same issue, which can be valuable for enhancing medical services or products.

Participant mix

 

  • Homogeneous Focus Groups

Homogeneous groups include participants who share certain characteristics or traits, such as job title or brand use. In a medical setting, this could be nurses, surgeons, or ICU consultants.

These focus groups allow for a highly targeted, focused discussion amongst peers and can be a powerful tool in medical market research to effectively understand specific user-groups and their unique needs, preferences, or concerns.

  • Heterogeneous Focus Groups

Heterogeneous focus groups consist of participants with diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences.

This type of group encourages the exploration of different viewpoints and can be useful for capturing a range of opinions and ideas.  

For example, you may wish to conduct a focus group that contains both clinicians and purchasing managers to better evaluate how a new product would be received by the market.

By having a diverse range of opinions, you can potentially mitigate unanticipated market reactions, leading to a more successful product launch.

 

Format

 

  • In-person focus groups

Traditionally, focus groups have been held in a physical location where participants engage in person.

This is an ideal setting for reading non-verbal cues and can foster a sense of personal connection amongst participants, leading to deeper insights. However, in-person focus groups can be costly, present issues with accessibility, and can be more complex to coordinate.

  • Digital focus groups

There’s an increasing trend for focus groups to be conducted online in virtual environments, where participants engage in discussions through video conferencing or online platforms. This approach has a range of benefits, including reduced cost, increased accessibility, and more efficient data collection. 

 

In-person vs. digital focus groups: What’s best?


Digital focus groups saw a surge in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, by providing a safe, socially-distanced way to conduct qualitative market research.

Even though it’s now more feasible to conduct face-to-face focus sessions, digital focus groups have retained a significant market share in the domain of focus group discussions in healthcare.

In the field of medical market research, both traditional in-person focus groups and digital focus groups have their place.

Rather than viewing digital focus groups as a substitute for traditional face-to-face interactions, it’s important to carefully consider the inherent strengths and weaknesses of both qualitative research methodologies. 

 

Advantages of digital focus groups

  • Geographical accessibility

Digital focus groups allow participants to access from anywhere in the world, eliminating geographical barriers. This can make it easier to access a wide pool of participants, and also allows access to experts across the globe for focused triad and dyad research.

  • Cost-effectiveness

Digital focus groups can be more cost-effective compared to traditional in-person focus groups as researchers can conduct sessions without the need for a physical venue, reducing the overheads associated with facility rental, catering and travel expenses.

  • Convenience and flexibility

Participants can join digital focus groups from the comfort of their own homes or offices.

This convenience and flexibility can attract a broader range of participants, in addition to improving accessibility for those with mobility issues and patients who may not be well enough to travel to a physical location.

  • Anonymity and reduced social pressure

In online focus groups, you have the ability to offer participants the option to remain anonymous or use pseudonyms, which can encourage open and honest responses, and reduce the social pressure that participants might experience in face-to-face group discussions.

This can lead to more honest, candid, and uninhibited responses, providing researchers with valuable insights and a deeper understanding of the participants' true thoughts and feelings.

  • Efficient data collection

Digital focus groups allow researchers to incorporate features such as real-time polling as part of the focus group to capture instant reactions and opinions to topics being discussed. It’s also possible to automatically transcribe digital focus group sessions, which can be far more efficient in producing a searchable document of discussions for analysis. 

 

Disadvantages of digital focus groups

  • Limited non-verbal cues

Online focus groups lack the richness of non-verbal communication that is present in face-to-face interactions. Body language can provide valuable insights for a researcher about the true feelings of a participant that may be missed in a digital setting. 

  • The potential for technical Issues 

Digital focus groups require participants to have access to a reliable internet connection, video conferencing software, and devices like webcams and microphones. If participants encounter issues with their internet connection or experience problems with their audio or video quality, it can disrupt the flow of the session and impact the researcher's ability to gain the most valuable insights. 

  • Lack of personal connection

The absence of physical presence in a digital focus group can reduce the amount of personal interaction in the session. This can reduce the sense of connection and rapport among participants, leading to a reduction in the depth of discussions and the level of engagement compared to face-to-face interactions.

  • Moderator control challenges

Moderating an online focus group can be more challenging compared to in-person sessions. Managing multiple participants, monitoring discussions, and maintaining the flow of conversation can be more complex without visual cues and immediate in-person interventions.

 

There are clearly some unique advantages of digital focus groups in terms of accessibility, access to experts, cost-effectiveness, and convenience.
However, researchers should be mindful of the limitations and carefully consider the research objectives and target audience when choosing between digital and traditional focus groups.

Get in touch with IDR Medical to run a focus group and gain actionable insights. 

 

Conducting a successful focus group: some best practices


Planning a successful focus group requires careful planning, effective facilitation, and thorough analysis.

By following these best practice steps, you can increase the chances of obtaining valuable insights from your focus group sessions.

 

Define the purpose

The first step in conducting a successful focus group is to define what you want to achieve and which business decisions the focus group needs to inform.  
The scope of research should be determined before you begin thinking about participants. 

 

Identify the target audience and size of focus group

Selecting the target audience is the next critical step in running a successful focus group.

This is where you need to consider whether you need a homogeneous focus group with participants all sharing common job titles, characteristics or traits - or whether you want a heterogeneous focus group that brings a diverse range of backgrounds and perspectives to your research.

You’ll also want to consider the size of the focus group to best align with your research objective. Consider whether you’d benefit most from a discussion amongst eight participants in a standard focus group, or have an in-depth debate between two or three experts in a dyad or triad research group.

 

Set a realistic budget

It’s important to establish a budget for your qualitative research early.

Expenses such as venue rental, travel costs, participant incentives, and moderation fees can quickly add up if left unplanned and unchecked.

By having a clear budget for your research goals, you’ll be in a better position to determine things like whether an in-person or digital focus group is preferable, and how you split costs between moderator fees and participant incentives. 

 

Select a skilled moderator

The moderation of a focus group has a huge bearing on the value of the insights that are gained from it. 

An experienced moderator can influence the direction of discussion, ensure that all participants have the opportunity to share their opinions, and make sure that all the key points identified in your research objective are covered.

It’s important to find a moderator who is experienced in conducting focus groups and also has sufficient depth of knowledge on the subject matter.

The right moderator will also be able to guide you on whether a digital focus group or in-person focus group might be best to achieve your research objective. 

 

Recruit participants

Your choice of participants is another significant variable influencing the group dynamics and the outcome of your research.

Your approach to participant selection will vary depending on the research objective, target audience and size of the focus group and whether you’re conducting the session digitally or in-person.

Once you have these agreed, it’s important to develop a recruitment strategy to find suitable participants. This could include online advertisements, existing customer databases, commercial panels, or professional networks.

You might also consider the suitability of different incentives such as cash or gift cards to encourage participation.

A broad piece of best practice advice for focus group recruitment is to always try and over-recruit, as it’s common to have last-minute cancellations or ‘no-shows’ on the day. 

 

Deal with sensitive issues and consent forms

This is particularly important for research in the medical sector, with both GDPR and HIPAA regulations to comply with.

Once you have an agreed list of participants, you should reassure them that any information they provide as part of the process will be treated with the utmost confidentiality.

Depending on the objectives of your research and the sensitivity of the topics being discussed, you should consider offering participants anonymity if they would feel more comfortable with this, and would be more likely to share their uncensored, unbiased opinions. 

It’s also important to inform participants if you’re planning on recording the focus group and gain their consent in advance.

 

Plan the focus group structure 

Another important step in running a successful focus group is ensuring it has the right structure.

A skilled research partner or moderator can help you with this.

This step involves deciding on the number of sessions required, the duration of each session, and preparing a detailed discussion guide that outlines the topics, questions, and prompts they want to cover during the focus group.

The discussion guide should facilitate a lively conversation that allows the flexibility for participants to share their thoughts freely whilst ensuring that all relevant areas of the research objective are explored.

 

Arrange the location and logistics 

A lot of the decisions around the location and logistics of the sessions depend on your focus group objectives and the previous decisions you’ve made around participants and structure.

If you’re arranging an in-person focus group, it’s important to choose a location that is easily accessible for your participants and has enough room for the number of people you’ve invited.

If you’re arranging a digital focus group, it’s important to make sure it’s as easy as possible for participants to connect, and provide as much detail as possible about any specialist software, equipment and connection requirements for the meeting.

In terms of arranging a time and date for a focus group, we’d recommend not arranging anything for a Friday or the days following a Public holiday - from experience these are the dates that typically see the highest levels of non-attendance. Another tip for improving attendance is to make sure to send a reminder to participants before the session.

If you’re going to be reviewing or evaluating a product or prototype in a focus group, you’ll also want to make sure that all participants are able to access it. This might mean making sure you have enough samples in a physical focus group, or securely mailing to participants ahead of a digital focus group. 

Finally, think about whether you might need an interpreter or translator to help facilitate the focus group and make sure nothing is misunderstood or misinterpreted.  

 

Analyze results and take action

Once the focus group session is completed, it’s important to transcribe and review the recorded conversations. This allows you to more effectively analyze the session data to identify key themes, patterns, and insights that emerged from the discussions.

It’s good practice to summarize your findings into a report or presentation that is sent to relevant stakeholders. Ensuring that actions are taken based on the feedback you’ve received, you can use the insights gained to refine your products, services, or marketing strategies.

 

Considering running a focus group?

Focus groups are an incredibly important part of medical research. But to get the most valuable insight out of a focus group, it’s important that they are planned, coordinated, and managed by an experienced research partner and moderator.

At IDR Medical, we have over a decade of experience in managing market research for healthcare markets in over 30 different countries.

Whether you’re considering the launch of a new medical device or service, or looking to improve and enhance your existing offerings, we’re here to help.

We’re passionate about giving practical advice and support to healthcare and medical device manufacturers, adding value to your business through both traditional and innovative digital research methodologies.

Find out more by downloading our guide to qualitative research methods, or booking a free consultation

 

Download our FREE guide to qualitative research methods

 

 

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