Stanton R. Mehr, President, SM Health Communications LLC
This question frequently comes up in discussions of projects that are already underway. In the process of creating the survey tool, research sponsors want the most direct, unambiguous response they can get to their critical questions.
In the vast majority of instances, it is possible to meet this need based not only on how the question is asked but on which format is chosen. For example, in-depth telephone interviews have the ability to both clarify and confuse: having the ability to “drill down” into an answer helps to clarify, but the interviewee may raise personal conflicting perspectives in a long and winding response. Multiple choice survey questions can also restrict variance in response, as long as the choices are worded well and account for all possible responses.
There are, however, some research questions that really cannot be answered by payers. We cannot expect a medical director to recall individual patients who have a particular condition who are being treated in a certain way, unless they happened to review an identical case just the other day. Asking them to provide information that may violate HIPAA would of course be prohibited. Questions regarding strategic directions of a plan or payer may be proprietary or as is often the case, needs to be targeted to a C-suite level survey sample.
In many cases, payer responses to a particular question will vary considerably, based on plan type, geographic location, and often by whether they serve a commercial (or even individual, exchange, or small/large groups), Medicare, or Medicaid populations. For these projects, it is often possible to lay out unambiguous responses for each payer segment, if the research sample is sufficiently large.
I’ve found that nearly all market research questions are answerable. Removing ambiguity in those responses (involving estimating probabilities and cautious interpretation of results) is a subject for future discussion. This can be best answered through the use of one of several format choices: in-depth telephone surveys, Web-based surveys, the use of on-line communities, or employing scenario-based research, like mock P&T Committees.