Improving digital pharma experiences and products with user research

Learn how pharma businesses can conduct successful user research in order to improve the digital experiences for their users.

Female general practitioner wears white coat and headset speaking videoconferencing on laptop computer using online video call consultation app.

We are all the product of our environment. We see our product through a filter that generates bias based on our own backgrounds, expertise, and commercial goals, whether that be in Marketing, Technology, Business, Sales, Design, and so on. 

User research is the closest thing to seeing the world through your user's eyes. To succeed, it is essential to understand your customer's needs, aims, behaviours, and how they interact with your products and services as part of a wider journey.

We explore how pharma businesses can conduct successful user research in order to improve the digital experiences of their HCPs and patients and efficiently build and launch best-in-market digital products.

What are the current challenges?

We recently surveyed a group of marketing and digital pharma industry professionals to get first-hand insight into the challenges they were facing when it came to building digital products and delivering first-class digital customer experiences in 2021. Carrying out user research and understanding user needs came out as one of the top challenges across the board.

We asked — what is your biggest challenge around understanding your users and conducting user research?

Graphic that reads - actioning on insights, access to HCPs, internal buy-in and approach

In terms of actioning on insights, participants cited struggles in distinguishing between perception vs. actual behaviour, understanding behaviour change, and leveraging the data they already generate or own. They also highlighted that the needs of their users can be very different in each use case. 

When it came to the issue of access to HCPs, our respondents highlighted HCP availability and interest as recurring challenges but said that the experience varied across markets. They also mentioned that contextual inquiry had been more difficult over the last 18 months due to the pandemic. 

Achieving internal buy-in for research projects can be difficult due to internal processes and compliance issues that delay the process and the ability to collect quick responses. Our respondents found that often the needs of stakeholders were prioritised over the needs of patients — perhaps due to a lack of understanding of the wider commercial impacts of effective user research. 

How to conduct successful research

Do the right product: Understand HCP needs and how they currently satisfy them

The aim is to find patterns in HCP's behaviour, goals, needs and desires to feed your product team with valuable insights. This research is also used to capture users’ characteristics (personas) and their journeys (user journey maps).

Results from this type of research are used in long-term strategy as a baseline alongside business goals.

Long term goals

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  • HCPs Journey
  • Voice of the Customers
  • Insights for innovation

Do the product right: Measure your product's success at answering user needs and helping them with their tasks.

This type of research generates actionable insights for the product team on specific aspects of the products (UI, UX, language, performance, usability).  

Results from this type of research are then used in a "prioritisation versus effort" exercise to add clear actions to a backlog for sprinting. Evaluative research is easily repeatable and should always be benchmarked against defined KPIs.

Short term goals

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  • Usability (task-based)
  • Optimisation
  • Information architecture
  • HCP Satisfaction

Quantitative vs. Qualitative: Both types of data are two sides of the same coin — the full story is revealed by combining them

The What (Quant)

  • Analytics
  • Surveys
  • Search Keywords
  • A/B Testing

Quantitative research can show how users are behaving. For example, which page performed best, where dropouts happen, and which journey leads to higher completion rate. The limitation is that quant can't tell you why users are behaving in such a way.

The Why (Qual)

  • Interviews
  • Diary study
  • Journey Mapping

Qualitative research, on the other hand, is here to help understand the why behind a behaviour. This form of research is often used to attach real-life pain points, needs, and aims to insights generated by Quant. For example, your registration form might cover all usability best practices and yet you are still experiencing a low completion rate. Only qualitative research can tell you why.

Tip: 9 times out of 10, it is about USP, trust, and lack of time.

Why develop personas for your HCPs?

Personas allow you and your team to have an overview of your HCP needs and will be key for recruiting the right HCPs for your research.

A shortcut to kickstarting your persona-building process is to use your experience, assumptions, and internal stakeholders. This approach will highlight gaps in your knowledge and better direct your research.

Although they will keep your team aligned around customer needs, personas are not a replacement for talking to your audience.

What about journey mapping?

Personas won't give you enough context into specific pain points for you to act upon them at a feature level.

Use your personas to recruit the right people so that you can map your customers' journey and understand how your product might fit into this and add value for them. 

Journey mapping allows you to identify key opportunities in your products. Whether it is to increase retention, success rate or just to understand what your data is telling you, user research and journey mapping will give you the why.

An HCP persona example: Hospital procurement pharmacist, Grace

A female procurement pharmacist, Grace, talks with another female. She is stood in pharmacy environment

Grace is in charge of facilitating and managing the procurement of medicines that meet regulatory and safety standards at a cost-effective price for the hospital. She oversees the ordering, storage, preparation, and distribution of medicines to patients.

Graphic with 3 a red circles that convey the characteristics of Grace

Grace’s wants and needs:

  • To ensure value for money given her limited budget 
  • To get the right amount of medicine, of the right quality, at the right time, to the right patient 

Her current solutions:

  • Call her rep or account manager
  • Refer to a spreadsheet provided by the wholesaler or pharma company
  • Call the wholesaler 

Grace’s frustrations:

  • Looking for alternative suppliers when a product is not in stock is a manual process
  • Searching for alternative product options that are available
  • The lengthy and time-consuming process involved in communicating with pharma companies or wholesalers
  • It’s difficult to quickly compare costs from different suppliers

A success story: Expediting your product launch process through research

Through initial research, the business identifies a major need for procurement pharmacists around monitoring stock levels. The focus of the project was to reduce time spent calling the business asking for updates on when out-of-stock items would be available again, therefore reducing traffic to the call centre.

A lot of great ideas were thrown into the design phase. Some had a high technical footprint, while others were based on assumed journeys for pharmacists.

By taking the time to test prototypes directly with pharmacists, the business actually managed to shave off time from their launch plan. By doing this, they went from ideation to launch in just 6 months — a great turnaround time for a project of this scale.

This was achieved by removing any features from the product that wouldn't bring value to pharmacists during testing and focusing on the most essential features, rather than the traditional tech lead approach.

Research and testing will allow your business to simplify the product to the core value proposition, and therefore create a more efficient user experience and a faster release schedule.

Remember: once the product is live, that's only the beginning! 

Working in this way allows for faster launches and a streamlined experience. However, it's important to remember that you won't be talking to ALL of your customers during the research phase. 

When you put the first version live, take a moment to celebrate but also make sure you continue to monitor the analytics and talk to your customers regularly to gain feedback. This will help you to continue to improve your digital product — product-thinking over project-thinking will help you build customer value.

What to remember when starting your user research project 

Here are 4 key things to keep in mind when implementing the above strategies and embarking on your own user research project:

  1. Use your expertise to build assumptions, but be sure to validate these with real HCP (or patient) research to understand the nuances.
  2. Define what you want to find out at the beginning of the project, in order to generate actionable insights from your research.
  3. "Just enough research" — just like physical exercise, little and often is better, more achievable, and will help to build a habit and culture within your organisation. It may also be easier to gain internal-buy and sign-off from regulatory and compliance.
  4. Start off with usability testing as it will show clear ROI to stakeholders. Once they’re on board, you can expand the remit of your research as you move forwards. 


Looking for expert guidance? 

At Graphite, we provide a full set of user research services, and all of them can be conducted remotely. Our user research process is fast, effective, and designed to give sufficient evidence to help your team make the right decisions with actionable next steps. Research is delivered with easily digestible reports of the analysis that has taken place with clear findings.

Graphite has provided user research services to Vhi, Pfizer, and other healthcare and pharmaceutical companies. If you want to find out more, get in touch for a chat.