“Innovators should reflect on the key information they would like to obtain, and the questions that should be asked in order to elicit the feedback needed. Bear in mind that there may be a range of characteristics of customers and users, so innovators should seek to include all potential perspectives. Questions asked of these stakeholders will be different depending on the purpose of the product, the setting in which it will be used, the role of the user, and stage of product development and commercialization.”
Written by Christine McDonough, MS, PhD
TREAT, Project Leader & Evaluation
Boston University, Health & Disability Research Institute, Research Asst. Prof.
If you are like many of the individuals TREAT interacts with on a daily basis, you are currently in the process of developing an innovative product or technology that you believe will eventually solve an important rehabilitation need. Before a technology can advance successfully from a promising idea to a commercial product, there needs to be a deep understanding of the problem from the perspectives of the people directly experiencing it. At TREAT, we strive to support the development and commercialization of rehabilitation solutions that address critical needs of the rehab community. We help innovators to identify key stakeholders and to incorporate their perspectives into the commercialization process.
To identify the key stakeholders, we encourage innovators to seek answers to several important questions. Here are a few main questions to get you started:
Who will use the product?
In the special case of rehabilitation devices and technology, the ultimate user is the person overcoming functional challenges. However, there may be multiple users including caregivers, such as family members, and inpatient rehabilitation or skilled nursing facility providers.
Who will purchase the product?
Identifying the buyer is usually not a simple endeavor. If the product is purchased by a health care institution, there may be several levels of input for purchase, including caregiver and management perspectives. It is critical to consider these perspectives in product development to ensure that the users and purchasers’ needs will be met.
How will the product be purchased?
Innovators need to know how the purchase process works from different perspectives to understand the market for the product. Although some products can be purchased directly by the consumer, others require a prescription. In some cases insurers may pay for part – or all – of the product. The option for rental or leasing may also impact the commercialization plan.
The TREAT program strongly encourages clients to seek input from the full range of users and purchasers at each stage of product development and commercialization. This can be an informal process; however, careful consideration should be given to the goals of the interaction. Innovators should reflect on the key information they would like to obtain, and the questions that should be asked in order to elicit the feedback needed. Bear in mind that there may be a range of characteristics of customers and users, so innovators should seek to include all potential perspectives. Questions asked of these stakeholders will be different depending on the purpose of the product, the setting in which it will be used, the role of the user, and stage of product development and commercialization.
There are three main approaches that can be used to gain a deeper understanding of the rehabilitation problem and solutions from the stakeholders’ perspectives.
- One-on-one Interviews provide in-depth understanding of the problem, potential solutions, or acceptability and feasibility of your solution. When possible, try to observe how the stakeholders deal with the problem in their real-life setting. Combined with observation, in-depth interviewing provides extremely valuable, rich information to guide successful device development. Interviewing is resource-intensive, as it takes a lot of effort to include a range of perspectives one at a time … but it will pay off in the long-run.
- Focus Groups can be an efficient alternative, and have the unique advantage of providing a forum for interaction among stakeholders about the problem or solution. Focus groups, also called “group depth interviews” are used in a number of disciplines, and have different objectives and methods. They can be extremely helpful for innovators at the conceptual /problem-solving stage of product development because the interaction among stakeholders can reveal information and ideas that would not have come from one-on-one interviews. Another obvious advantage of focus groups is that information from several people can be obtained at the same time. Whether focus groups should be made up of stakeholders from a mix of perspectives (for example, health care providers and parents) or people from the one stakeholder group is an important consideration. In the context of rehabilitation product development, focus groups usually take one and a half to 2 hours, and include 6-12 people who have relevant experience (identity, norms, health/rehabilitation problem) in common. The focus group experience is facilitated by a trained or experienced moderator, and the main objectives are to gain deep understanding and to leverage the interaction within the group.
- Survey-based Methods, such as questionnaires, are typically less in-depth and interactive. Rather, they provide a broad understanding of stakeholder perspectives. They are most appropriate when the developer already has in-depth knowledge about the problem or the proposed solution, and needs feedback on specific issues or questions encountered in the development and commercialization process. Questionnaires are efficient and allow for quantification of results; however, the formulation of highly specific, clearly written survey questions is critical to the success of this approach. The efficiency of data collection and management must be weighed against the potential need for additional expertise that may be necessary to ensure that the results are meaningful and interpretable. In addition, efforts must be made to optimize respondent participation, since low response rates limit the representativeness of stakeholders and utility of the information.
Taken together, these three approaches offer depth and breadth of information that will guide successful rehabilitation product development and commercialization.
This piece by Christine McDonough was featured in our October 2015 Newsletter. To subscribe to our eNewsletter and join our TREAT Community, please visit: https://www.treatcenter.org/application/