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“It’s not just what they say, it’s what they do.”: Patient-Physician Interaction

How many times do you exercise per week? How often do you floss? What are your New Year’s resolutions? How often do you cook at home to have healthy meals vs. going out?

We might say things while we are out in public or with friends when we talk about normal, mundane activities. However, our actual behavior compared to what we say may not line up. In other words, what we say we do may not reflect our actual behaviors in everyday life.

And some of these everyday behaviors are our default behaviors. The things we do because we have always done them, regardless of what we say to others.

We may talk about what we are going to do or what we think the right thing is to say but as the old adage states, “actions speak louder than words.”

For pharmaceutical manufacturers, understanding the patient and physician interaction is critical. For pharmaceutical manufacturers, understanding the interaction between patient and physician is critical. But traditional ask-and-tell market research simply identifies what physicians say or think they do during patient interactions and does not take clinical default behaviors into consideration. Thus, traditional market research may miss what actually happens and the why behind the behavior. Knowing what HCPs do rather than what they say they do can unleash important insight for product development, as well as marketing and branding.

This is where our Encounter methodology fits in. It reveals the clinical default behaviors that drive the HCP – Patient interaction.

The Encounter Process

Harper Global’s Encounter methodology simulates patient interactions, taking the HCP out of “what they say they do” and into what they actually do in a patient encounter.

Encounter’s 6-phase process is:

1. Patient Profile Workshop. Each Encounter project starts with a workshop to identify the patient profiles of interest to you in great detail. Understanding specifically what you want to explore in the research allows us to detail the specific different factors and characteristics the patients exhibit, down to their mental status and the language they might use.

2. Physician Vetting.

We next conduct a series of interviews with physicians to review the patient profile and develop a robust clinical picture of the patient. The goal is to confirm that the patients described are patients the physician see in their practice, as well as the clinical factors that physicians need to better understand the patient and make treatment decisions. This could include detailed demographics, co-morbidities, past and current treatments, etc.

3. Electronic Medical Record.

Once we have the patient profiles fully vetted, we create a medical record for each patient who will be seen in the simulation. These realistic help the physician move into their clinical default behaviors as they interact with each patient simulation.

4. Patient Simulators.

Next, we hire professional patient simulators to play the role of the patient. We work with simulators that match the demographics and physical characteristics of the patients described in the medical charts. The simulators are briefed on the medical record of the

patient they are playing, including giving them the name, background, and mental state of the person, as well as potential topics the doctor, or the patient, might raise and answers to possible questions.

5. The Encounter.

HCPs are recruited for the research but are not told that they will be seeing patients during the research. When the physician enters the interview room, the moderator introduces the process and asks physicians about their practice. Think of it as a virtual tour of their office and routine, which sets the stage for them to see the first “patient.” Then the moderator gives the physician the medical record of the patient they will see. The room may be set up to approximate the exam setting. After the patient enters the room, the moderator steps in the background and observes the patient-physician interaction. Physicians will see one patient after another (generally four patients back-to-back) as they would in their clinical practice.

6. Debrief.

After all patients have been seen, the moderator debriefs with the physician, focusing the discussion on the key observations needed to accomplish the research objectives. This debrief covers the “why” behind the behavior and an understanding of what drives any differences in behavior between the different patient types.

Encounter works well for many pharmaceutical products and across the entire product life-cycle, from exploration to launch to marketing. This makes it a very versatile tool for gathering information and insight for product success.

Encounter In Action: A Case Study

One of our clients, a leading global pharmaceutical manufacturer, wanted to understand how to differentiate the value of their new product against long-standing, tried-and-true products.

Specifically, they wanted to understand what and how physicians are talking to patients about their disease state and medication options. The client wanted to learn where there may be an opportunity to interrupt the physician’s default behavior and mindset to effectively position and market their new product vs. using the status quo products.

Our client learned through the patient/physician interaction research that conversations around technology in this disease state is playing more of a role today than previously considered. Technology is affecting perceptions of how they can use the status quo products more effectively vs. having to consider using a new product. The research also uncovered other potential opportunities to interrupt the physician’s default behavior to initiate more significant therapeutic changes, i.e., change to a new product vs. staying with the old one. All of which would likely not have been identified through a traditional ask-and-tell approach.


Encounter allows researchers to get beyond self-reported behavior to ethically and securely observe simulated physician behaviors with patients. Using this tool can provide many vital insights that will drive manufacturers’ ability to more effectively and successfully answer many different kinds of business problems.

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