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What Automation Means for Healthcare Market Researchers

Automation is really about bringing the human factor into your work. It’s how innovation and technology are in fact stimulating a demand for skills only humans have: creative thinking, critical decision-making, complex human-centered analysis.


By Tom Lancaster, Chief Technology Officer, InCrowd

The latest GRIT report on 2016 market research industry trends is out, and I’m really excited to see a special new section on “Adoption of Automation.” I’ve been thinking a lot lately about automation and how it can and should be applied to healthcare-related market research. (See my guest post on

Automation and the prospect of machines doing what humans do is of course nothing new. For businesses, analytics, and reporting have long been automated across sectors and industries (think about the advent and promise of big data!). For busy professionals, word processers instead of typewriters, and meeting scheduling applications have been a boon for productivity and efficiency.

For market researchers in particular, the new GRIT report notes that charts, infographics, analysis of text, survey, and social media data are already popular automated features.

The report goes on to say, “what can be automated will ultimately be automated as well.” I couldn’t agree more. But what exactly does this mean for healthcare market researchers and what kinds of automation are already here or on the horizon that you should be watching?

Here are four important market research features to think about when considering automated solutions:

  1. Sampling—How do you fill a survey with the right respondents and how do you do it quickly? And, with physicians busier than ever, getting them to provide high-quality answers while on the go is also part of the puzzle. The GRIT report notes that “while a third of respondents already use automated sampling, many [are] concerned about the impact of this automation on data quality.” Sophisticated sampling algorithms however now let you optimize for speed and response quality. The better ones do this through a “trickle” sample methodology that goes out to smaller subsets of respondents at a time in order to reduce the number clicking through only to discover that the survey has closed. Such sampling automation means a better survey experience for physicians, which in turn leads to faster responses and increased rates of participation all in the service of higher data quality.
  1. Survey Data—One reason traditional surveys take weeks to compile and report out on is the enormous amount of time and human resources spent on filtering and cleaning data sets. New survey technology applications deal with this problem head on by validating responses as they come in. This is also known as real-time data quality assurance and it uses software to clean data sets during fielding or as soon as surveys close in order to provide high-quality, real-time survey data. Survey technology providers are mastering the art and science of survey data analysis, and market researchers are adopting this approach in large numbers, with nearly 42 percent using some form of survey data automation, according to the GRIT report.
  1. Tracking Studies—The social media timeline—with its algorithms to automate shares, tags, and tweets—is a great analogy for the tracking study. These are your micro-moments captured over time so you can focus on finding joy and meaning in those streams of thoughts and pictures. Market research applications are applying similar timeline algorithms to the tracking study. Automation is able to take the onerous work out of repetitive fielding of tracking surveys, aggregating responses, and providing visual comparisons of multiple waves. In other words, machines do the large quantity of tedious work so market research teams can spend their time defining and analyzing KPIs—and making smart decisions with that data.
  1. Translation & Transcription—In the last 10 years, there has been an explosion of “application program interfaces” or APIs that allow different software programs to connect with each other. Think of looking up that new restaurant in Yelp using Google Maps—this is all done through automated APIs for a seamless user experience that allow you to stay in Yelp the entire time. The same is true for quantitative surveys and qualitative interviews that require translation and/or transcription. The world of APIs allows us to create a unique “network of services” that collects survey feedback, upload the data files to a third-party transcription or translation service provider, and receive the translated materials—all through a single user interface.

Such automation is really about bringing the human factor into your work. It’s how innovation and technology are in fact stimulating a demand for skills only humans have: creative thinking, critical decision-making, complex human-centered analysis.

An example from the past tells us this can happen: When automatic teller machines (ATMs) came out, bank employees were freed from conducting basic transactions behind a counter to engaging in higher-value responsibilities like sales and financial advising—activities that helped build customer loyalty and the company’s brand.

Imagine what automation in market research would allow you to do.


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