For decades, life science commercial teams have relied on physician advisory board meetings to gather information from doctors who actually use or prescribe their products. These insights are viewed as invaluable when making critical business decisions. But as healthcare providers across the U.S. and Canada become increasingly diverse, it begs the question: Do the insights gathered through medical advisory board meetings actually reflect the opinions of today’s physician population?
For this blog post, we asked KeyOps co-founders Dr. Sam Elfassy (gastroenterologist) and Dr. Saeed Darvish (cardiologist) to share their thoughts on why market research gained through physician advisory board meetings may be less reliable than you think:
Five Reasons Why Physician Advisory Board Research Can be Biased
1. Traditional methods of engagement don’t work for everyone
As a physician, time is one of your most valuable resources. And medical advisory board meetings demand a lot of it. For us, this became one of the biggest barriers when interacting with the life sciences industry.
If you practice in a major city, you can easily fill your schedule with one or two dinner invites a week – each requiring several hours of your time. As a parent of young children, this is particularly challenging because every invitation you accept is an evening you’ll spend away from your family. At a point in our lives when so many hours were already dedicated to serving patients and building our careers, we could rarely justify making physician advisory board meetings a priority.
Talking with other physicians confirmed that we aren’t the only ones who feel this way. Anecdotally, many young doctors have shared that the traditional methods of engagement with life science companies just don’t work for their busy lives. This is reinforced by a recent study from McKinsey & Company, which found 81% of physicians are dissatisfied with their interactions with life science companies.
If a growing number of physicians (particularly younger doctors) opt to not engage with the life sciences industry, then what does that say about the accuracy of data collected during medical advisory board meetings.
2. Advisory boards often lack physician diversity
We’ve already established that attending advisory board meetings can be a challenge –especially for younger physicians. As a result, the doctors that do participate in these types of engagements with life science companies may not accurately reflect the physician population you’re trying to reach.
Meetings are dominated by well-established doctors in later stages of their careers. And from a demographic perspective, our experience has been that these physicians typically skew toward being older, white, and male.
Don’t get us wrong – the feedback these doctors provide may be very valuable. But their perspectives don’t accurately represent the physician population as a whole.
In fact, our experience was that during every advisory meeting we attended, we’d see many of the same familiar faces. If you’re making business decisions based on insights from the same 10 to 15 people, the data you act on is likely biased in some way.
3. Not all patient populations are represented
Lack of diversity in physician advisory board meetings isn’t just an issue when it comes to participation. It’s also a problem related to patient representation.
Because medical advisory board meetings are typically hosted in major cities, most of the doctors who attend them practice medicine in an urban setting. This can skew the data in multiple ways.
Geographically, there may be key differences in the way a physician practices medicine – particularly in urban vs. rural settings. Other factors, such as the ethnicity, education, and socioeconomic status of the populations they serve can vary dramatically. And differences in average patient volumes can make a difference, too.
When gathering physician insights, these nuances can be lost – especially if they aren’t collected from a diverse physician network.
4. Discussions may produce groupthink
When you’re engaged in a group conversation with a dozen physicians, it’s natural for some voices to be more outspoken than others. We’ve both attended medical advisory board meetings where it felt like one or two people dominated the conversation. And as a result, the data collected during these meetings can be biased – because it doesn’t accurately reflect the opinions of everyone involved.
Additionally, the general structure of advisory board meetings, combined with our innate human desire to strive for consensus, makes open forums a prime environment for groupthink to occur. Why? Because if a roomful of your physician colleagues express strong opinions about a topic, you may be hesitant to speak your mind if you disagree.
Whether bias is caused by a dominant speaker or physician groupthink, the result is the same: less-than-reliable data. In our experience, we’ve found that physician research often yields more accurate results when each participant is blinded or shares asynchronous feedback.
5. Life science interactions can feel like “selling out”
There’s one more issue that can complicate the relationship between physicians and the life sciences industry: compensation. Over the years, we’ve heard many doctors express a desire to share their perspectives with biomed and pharma companies to ultimately help improve patient care and outcomes. But there’s something about cashing a check from corporate interests that just doesn’t feel right.
Some physicians believe partnering with life science companies can be perceived as a bias. Others feel like physician advisory meetings are a sales pitch in disguise – which is not the best place to share open, honest feedback. Whatever the cause, the lack of an arms-length relationship with the industry leads many eligible physicians to opt out of these engagements. And the feedback shared during face-to-face physician advisory board meetings may not be as accurate as one may be led to believe.
A Better Way to Capture Physician Insights
The way life science companies interact with physicians isn’t working for anyone. That’s why we founded KeyOps. Our mission is to transform the relationship between physicians and life science companies – by creating an environment where strong, mutually beneficial partnerships are built. Visit www.keyops.io to learn how we deliver fast, unbiased market research from a trusted physician network.
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