Value and improved service result from effective insight

The advent of the Coalition Government after May’s general election has heralded sweeping changes for the health service. Once again GPs will have more control over service management, procurement and funds, and more competition will be brought into the foundation trusts system. The role of those at the local service delivery level will become even more critical and it is essential therefore, that health service and care providers are confident that they are making the right decisions.  
This is where social, market and opinion research can add value, offering accurate insights to decision-makers.

Getting results from research
The Market Research Society (MRS) is the regulatory body for social, market and opinion research in the UK and can help health sector organisations identify how to use research to achieve the best results. “Good, ethical research – which is much more than just quick surveys – can change much of what our clients do for the better, making delivery and decision-making both more effective and more efficient,” says Andy Cumming, founding director of Curiosity Research and Engage2change, specialists in public sector health research.
Cumming continues: “Research can deliver real benefits. It can add value across the board, from service evaluations to service configurations. Insights into patient experience are becoming ever more important given the focus on patient choice – research offers decision-makers information on which parts of the service to prioritise and protect, an essential activity given the financial climate.”
Benefits of research

There are a number of potential uses of insight and research within the health sector including:
•    Effectiveness and efficiency – ensuring funds are directed to solutions and services which will directly benefit those who need it, whilst    removing the risk of wastage.
•    Attitudinal – enabling organisations to assess different perceptions and
opinions relating to customer and patient satisfaction and preference in the provision of services and products.
•    Policy development, implementation and evaluation – evaluating each stage of the complex process of health policy development.
•    Communications – enabling a two-way dialogue with key stakeholders and informing the selection of effective channels of communication.
•    Public relations – helping health organisations understand the behaviour and attitudes of target audiences to inform messaging and branding.
•    Product and service development – identifying which products and services are performing well and which are not.

Choose a credited supplier
To ensure that research is both accurate and meaningful, it should be commissioned from accredited suppliers who meet industry guidelines on delivering robust, ethical and representative findings. MRS upholds a number of rules and guidelines to ensure good practice across sectors. Individual professionals that are MRS members and organisations like Curiosity Research, that are MRS Company Partners, have to abide by the MRS Code of Conduct, which sets the rules for conducting fair and ethical research.  
The Code, along with the Data Protection Act of 1988 – which members/Company Partners are compelled to adhere to – offer a strict set of parameters that restrict malpractice in research. At a time when concerns around data privacy and information security are at a high, this helps deliver the necessary safeguards health professionals need.
“Good research will deliver what the client really needs – accurate insights that policy and decisions can be reliably based on. Often findings can change strategies dramatically for the better when research is at the heart of decision-making,” says Steve Lowery, group head of Custom Healthcare at Synovate, a Company Partner. “In this way, research can ensure excellent outcomes.”
“Research delivers a clear return on investment, whether it’s used when making decisions about which services to protect and prioritise, or when attempting behavioural change in patient groups. This is critical when it’s taxpayers’ money that is being spent,” Lowery adds. “If you are forced into tough choices about services you need to understand likely service uptake, potential return on investment and how the service will play out with stakeholders.”

Types of research
There are broadly two types of research, quantitative and qualitative, and both have their own specific purpose. MRS Company Partner organisations and those organisations with MRS members can help advise on what sort of research suits a specific requirement.          Quantitative research generally involves using larger samples of respondents for major policy development and funding decisions whereas qualitative research is smaller-scale and more personal, focusing on issues such as patient journeys, service evaluations and behavioural change campaign strategies. Often a combination of both methods is the key to good insight for practitioners.
The MRS website is a good starting point to find out more about how research could benefit you. It includes A Newcomer’s Guide to Market Research, as well as the annually updated Research Buyer’s Guide (, which lists MRS Company Partners and organisations with MRS members, their contact details, geographic area and industry specialism. All organisations and individuals listed in the Research Buyer’s Guide are committed to adhering to the MRS Code of Conduct.

Using Surveys for Consultations
In addition, LARIA (the Local Authorities Research & Intelligence Association), has its own website ( and works closely with MRS. LARIA can offer bespoke advice specifically to local, public sector, health care providers. In 2005, MRS and LARIA issued Using Surveys for Consultations as a joint guide for local public sector organisations looking to conduct market, social or opinion research. The document complements the MRS Code of Conduct and offers advice specifically on researching public and social opinion on issues of local importance, such as the various types of health service provision. More information on this and broader public opinion issues can be found at
“The move to local funding is full of opportunities for improving service delivery but this relies on those at the local level knowing what is needed and understanding the patient community. Using an accredited supplier to ensure ethical standards are upheld through the MRS Code of Conduct is important in this sort of research and this is where the MRS can help,” Andy Cumming concludes.  “This way our clients know the decisions they are taking on the back of research are credible and protect patients’ rights.”
Further advice on how to commission research that complies with the MRS Code of Conduct can be found on the MRS and Research Buyer’s Guide websites.

Case study one
A recent study of how research can prioritise activity and focus improvements was evidenced in an evaluation of an Intermediate Heart Failure Service.

Curiosity Research developed a ‘patient journey’ by speaking to patients and key stakeholders such as staff and providers. This patient journey is essentially a pathway with a series of key touch points from the patient perspective. It considers more than medical interventions and could for example include initial communications, through appointment setting to results feedback and follow up.

Once they had an agreed patient journey they measured the performance of the service at each point and the importance of each point to the patient from the perspective of driving customer satisfaction.  

This technique allowed them to recommend where scarce resources should be prioritised. For example, the findings showed that having continuity of staff was more important to patients than more regular visits.

Frieda Rimmer, clinical services manager at the Wirral Heart Centre, NHS Wirral, said: “This technique has really allowed us to focus on those areas that we know will drive improvements for the patients. We now have the information to make informed decisions.”

Case study two
Using their HealthACORN methodology, health location analyst CACI and market research company Kantar have examined the coalition government’s plans for a new health premium to improve population-wide health and reduce health inequalities. The government’s aim is to reallocate NHS funding to local authorities on the basis of the existing health of their residents.
The research involved an analysis of Britain’s 1.9 million postcodes to produce a detailed picture of current and future health trends in local areas. The objective was to determine whether allocating funding purely on the basis of existing health would be adequate to enable authorities to cope with future demand.
Using a unique combination of lifestyle surveys, market research and Census data identifying 287 lifestyle variables, CACI and Kantar produced an accurate impression of future health trends in each of the UK’s 354 local authorities.
This allowed for local authorities to be ranked according to their future health problems alongside the current health of the population. The research revealed the discrepancies between both rankings – the London Borough of Tower Hamlets is ranked number 155 for current health problems, but the HealthACORN analysis put it at two when future health problems are taken into account.
John Rae, director, CACI, said: “Our study shows that using information about existing health problems is not a sufficient basis for achieving the coalition’s objectives. The task for the government is to ensure that, as its reforms are introduced, directors of public health are able to channel funds appropriately and in to areas of greatest need.”