Bj Kirschner is director, business development at Just Worldwide. He can be reached at

How many traffic lights does your great-uncle pass if he becomes a tuna? Absurd question, right? But you are curious, I bet.

Actually, in the context of market research, I think we can make sense of it. Let’s do what we do best, look more closely and analyze it.

We have a guy (great-uncle) with a startling change to his life (I would call becoming a fish pretty startling, no?) and a question only he can answer (he’s the only one passing traffic lights, only he can count them).

Sound familiar? If you have ever done any health care research, it should:

In other words, “rare patient” research. See? It’s not as absurd as the great-uncle example. 

Here’s my theory: health care market research is a victim of its own success. We have found the patients, we have found them with rare conditions and we have asked them every question we have. I’m certainly proud of that but it also scares the heck out of me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all positive. But each time we push further, future expectations are pushed further and I often wonder if perhaps we are pushing ourselves TOO far. Success comes with responsibility and boundaries.

What will that mean? Let’s break the discussion down into three parts – the patient, the micro-condition and the questions – and see where we end up.

Back in the pre-modern days of market research, “health care” meant PCPs and people who took any prescription medication (the word “therapy” was not in heavy use yet). HIPAA was relatively new; managing it made us all nervous. GDPR did not even exist yet but many countries already had thorny privacy standards we needed to learn. But “knowing” health care was simple by today’s standards. It meant understanding your country’s national health care system, which HCP treats specific conditions and maybe the ...