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Physician-Patient Dialogue Research


Market research commissioned by pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device companies commonly seeks to understand how physicians and patients make decisions to initiate treatment and select a particular product.  

However, most of these market research projects rely on methods that provide only tangential insight about what actually happens in physician-patient encounters where these decisions occur. 

When physicians and patients are interviewed out-of-context (e.g., in a research facility, via surveys) about how their decisions are made in patient visits, their accounts are often incomplete and inaccurate for a few reasons:

  • · Imperfect memories of the visit's linguistic content and sequence
  • · Incentives to revise their depictions of the encounters (more favorably)
  • · Only partial awareness of how they were specifically influenced in discussions


Our approach to Physician-Patient Dialogue Research provides direct and authentic observational access to these physician-patient interactions as they occur in real-time.

The ethnographic fieldwork occurs exclusively in physicians’ offices across the country. 

Each physician involves a few patients who fit a certain profile in the study.  We recommend the inclusion of patient types who may be candidates for initiating or switching therapy because these encounters offer the best opportunities to capture the initiation, switching, and product description / selection discussions, including the various barriers and drivers (cues, triggers) that present in the visits.

All physician-patient encounters are videotaped (with participant consent), which later allows for a detailed socio-linguistic and social interactive analysis.   

Beyond this direct observation and recording of the physician-patient visits, the ethnographer also interviews the physicians and patients both before and after the physician-patient encounters.  This pre- and post-visit interviewing approach has a few main benefits:

  • · Provides a fuller context (history, emotions, biases) to identify implicit interactive patterns
  • · Allows ethnographer to probe for more detail on comments and patterns observed in visits
  • · Enables exploration and insight on how the visit shapes and affects patients


In each physician practice, the ethnographer also identifies key office staff members and interviews them to detemine their role in therapy decision-making and logistics.

These physician-patient dialogue projects are very comprehensive in orientation.  Fieldwork typically occurs over 3-5 complete weeks in physicians’ offices.

The subsequent analytic phase—a careful review, transcription, and coding of the videotaped encounters—also involves extensive attention to detail. 

As cultural/ psychological anthropologists, we have a distinctive expertise in both the methodological and analytic skills that these projects demand.   In our analysis of the encounters, we incorporate principles of symbolic interactionism, ethnomethodology, and conversation analysis—a socio-linguistic field that lies at the intersection of sociology and cultural anthropology. 

Only senior-level researchers (PhD) are involved in all project stages from design through conduct of fieldwork, analysis, editing of key illustrative video segments, and report-writing.