Editor's note: Charu Gupta is marketing director at InCrowd Inc., a Watertown, Mass., research firm. 

How we conceive and conduct qualitative research is in need of a refresh. Market researchers continue to worry about diminishing sample size and quality. This is starker for the life sciences industry, where physicians and health care stakeholders are busy, well-paid professionals who easily ignore or opt out of lengthy or difficult questionnaires. 

By most accounts there are about 900,000 prescribing physicians in the United States. The largest health care panels have about 675,000. Response rates are in the 2 to 5 percent range. So, for any type of market research project, physician access is really between 13,000 and 33,000. That’s before any screening for specialty, product use, patient count, eye color, etc. 

When it comes to qualitative research participation, there is even more reason to worry. Last year, InCrowd asked more than 100 physicians through our market intelligence platform if they had participated in qualitative research in the last 12 months. Forty-two physicians, about 40 percent, said no. And 36 percent of these physicians said it was because they did not have the time. 

For the 63 physicians who did participate in the last 12 months, their top two issues were scheduling (it took three contact attempts on average to get a qual interview scheduled) and the length of interviews (an average of 60 minutes). It is safe to say that if the industry does not make significant advancements in how qual research is conducted (and if drug and device manufacturing companies do not adopt these improvements), then the number of physicians opting out of qual research will only climb. 

The good news is that there is meaningful innovation happening in the qual research space. The trick is to find out what is substantive and helpful to methodology and data quality, versus what is just s...