Focus groups are invaluable in helping health care marketers understand their audiences, and in determining health care outcomes. For example, the 2005 scientific study titled, Focus Group Research: using group dynamics to explore perceptions, experiences and understandings written by J.Kitzinger and published by Open University Press, describes some group contributions as: 1) “the improvement of health services provision, 2) in-depth exploration of the experience of a diagnosis, disease (progression) and treatment, and 3) analysis of the role of mass media or broader culture…in shaping understandings of a disease.”

Health Care Focus Groups

A website for Public Health Professionals gives an overview of the makeup, leadership and purpose of focus groups which is entirely applicable to health care marketing. It describes a “focus group” as “a group interview… to obtain information about a topic…(and) how the topic is perceived socially, within a peer group.” A focus group, in other words, “adds information about what a person will say in a peer group, and how the group influences his or her feelings on the topic.” In addition, asserts this site, focus groups can help compose questions for surveys on the same topic.

This site also advises: In putting a focus group together, a marketing team should consider “8-10 participants an ideal size,” as fewer than 5 can make for awkward gaps in discussion and more than 12 can be “hard to manage.”

All participants must provide “written consent,” emphasizes the website, by acknowledging they are aware “the conversation will be taped… but names will not be used in any reports.” Incentives (such as drinks, light breakfasts and/or snack lunches) offered by marketers make it easier for participants to put aside time in their schedules.

The Public Health site further recommends a focus group not exceed one and one-half hours, and that everyone sit within a circle, including the moderator, who initially describes the group’s purpose and discussion guidelines. A group “recorder” may also assist by running the taping equipment, taking notes on members’ “body language”(if video tape is not used) and making a “room diagram,” in which numbers or initials are substituted for participant names.

The group moderator starts off with a “single all-encompassing question,” encourages members to “talk to each other rather than to me” and redirects when the group drifts off course. The opening question, says this website, should be open-ended, yet include enough “specifics” to keep the discussion focused.

Follow-up questions (designed to elicit more details) often urge group members to, “Say more… Tell us how you felt… (or) Describe what gave you that impression.”

Those a little hesitant to join in must be encouraged by the moderator, and those dominating the discussion may be quieted with a phrase such as, “Let’s hear from someone else.” On-going conflicts, also, can be softened with, “Every opinion is valid… Total agreement is not necessary.”

At the close of the session, the moderator sincerely thanks everyone and reiterates that confidentiality will be followed.

In going over the taped discussion and “body language” notes, the marketing team will search out “overall themes” and “individual quotes relevant to those themes” by employing “qualitative data analysis software.” Also, exceptional responses given by “subgroups” (women vs. men) will be summarized. The final report usually includes, according to the website, “the purpose of the group, the composition of its members and the conclusion, or results.”

Contact the marketing research professionals at New Perspectives for the custom-made composition and moderating of focus groups to help you better understand your target audience, and their needs.