Editor's note: Jennifer Gold is a customer insights manager in the San Mateo, Calif., office of consulting firm ZS Associates.

Most industries recognized long ago the value in learning from those who best understand and influence their consumers – in other words, the consumer’s friends, family members and peers. Friendship circles, mommy groups and interviews with married couples have for years provided consumer goods, technology and financial services industries deep insights into the drivers of decision-making. A group of friends engaged by a moderator, for example, quickly identify their ulterior motives for making emotionally-driven purchases during a shopping excursion, thereby isolating the underlying reason for a splurge outside the predetermined price range. In another instance, a husband and wife who debated their retirement plans with a market researcher promptly delved into the emotional quagmire of family spending – a factor which lies at the heart of retirement planning and investment decisions.

Each year, the pharmaceutical industry spends well over a billion dollars on market research in the U.S. alone1 – most of it on health care providers (HCPs) and consumers. In particular, industry leaders have conducted in-depth research into the role of physician as decision-maker and patient as consumer.

As economic pressures in the U.S. health care system continue to increase, HCPs have less time to make thoughtful treatment decisions about each individual patient’s care. This, in turn, puts a greater burden on patients,2 who are sometimes ill-equipped to make complex decisions.

It is well-documented that patients find it difficult to digest information in the physician’s office – especially at the time of diagnosis.3 Even so, many market researchers don’t see this as a challenge and assume a patient will be able to be an active and informed decision maker once they recover from the init...