Case Study

What? versus Why?

Market Research

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An in-depth look at cognitive interviewing


Understanding the physician treatment decision process is of paramount importance to pharmaceutical clients if one is to understand, and effectively influence, physician behavior.
Although the structured questionnaire approach used for quantitative research plays a key role understanding ‘what’ a physician does, it falls short of providing the broader context within which physicians make decisions.

In other words, it doesn’t give us any insight as to why it happens that way. Cognitive interviewing can help us fill that gap, and provide actionable insights into the physician’s decision-making process.

As Market researchers, we strive to determine how the factors of patient characteristics, brand perceptions, insurance coverage or some other unknown factor may influence the ultimate decision to treat a patient, and by what degree. Ultimately our clients want us to help them determine what process the physician follows, and to identify the points along the way where one can influence behavior.

The challenge

The challenge that we often experience is that simply asking the question of “why?” often provides us with an incomplete view of the decision-making process.
The ways in which people think through their problems is known as procedural knowledge. It gives us a way to understand respondent thought-processes and develop insights into how decisions are made and how these processes can be positively impacted by client initiatives.

What is Cognitive Interviewing?

Simply put, cognitive interviewing is a qualitative technique where the respondent is asked to ‘think aloud’ as they are faced with a scenario and verbalize their thought process as they think through it.
In terms of application, cognitive interviewing has been utilized extensively in many different fields such as education, law enforcement, and user experience testing.

Cognitive Interviewing Methods

Cognitive Debrief

In this approach the respondent completes a survey then reviews each question again with the interviewer and is retrospectively asked about each of their answers.

Concurrent Cognitive Interview

Respondents using this method are asked to think aloud as a way of responding, fielding probes from the interviewer as they evaluate each question or task.

Benefits of Cognitive Interviewing

  • It places respondents ‘in the moment’
  • Allows for specific patient cases
  • Incorporates the ideas of agency, uncertainty, risk and consequence on the part of the healthcare provider (HCP)

HCPs generally respond positively to cognitive interviewing methods and feel engaged and invested in the research. It gives us a clearer picture of how physicians actually think and what factors they may take into account as they make decisions.
These insights can ultimately be used to drive marketing and commercial strategy by identifying areas where HCP decision-making could be most effectively influenced.

Want to learn more?

The market research team at KMK has decades of experience solving a critical business challenges for our clients by providing effective, evidence-based guidance for commercial success across the product lifecycle.
Our integrated framework for assembling key market learnings and socializing new insights eliminates inadequacies arising with individual market research studies better equipped to provide guidance for discrete commercial decisions.

Contact us today for a free no-obligation consultation at or Click Here to learn more about our services.

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