A brief guide: Healthcare market research tactics

Healthtech startups offer unique challenges when it comes to scoping out their markets. The healthcare industry is notoriously complex, and most ventures will run into regulatory and reimbursement barriers when bringing their products to market. However, a little market research know-how will do wonders for easing your growing pains.

What is healthcare market research?

Unlike traditional market research, healthcare market research uses epidemiology and medical data to size your market. Healthcare market research focuses on the latest health trends and examines factors like patient comfort and education to identify market opportunities and penetration. It also accounts for healthcare’s unique customer landscape, where patient pools drive the overall market size, and where healthcare providers (HCPs) can influence product sales more than consumers. Healthcare market research provides an understanding of the number of potential patients that could be treated with your product, which products HCPs prefer to treat them with, and the accessibility of the market.

Primary vs. secondary research approach

Primary research is a great way to gather information on how potential customers perceive your brand. The incentive costs can add up quickly when your ideal persona has an MD and a clinic to run. Secondary research methodologies use already published reports, studies, and analyses to construct a comprehensive view of the market or perform a market opportunity analysis.

What questions can secondary healthcare market research answer?

This guide will highlight several reputable free resources and tips to help you conduct secondary healthcare market research. The public resources identified in this guide can be used to:

  • Estimate your patient pool
  • Define potential reimbursement
  • Map the competitive landscape
  • Identify technological trends

Key secondary resources for healthcare market research

   Key source Type of data
World Health Organization (WHO) Epidemiology by indication, demographics, population behavioural trends, and regulations by country
United States Census Bureau – International Data Base Population by geography or demographics, population growth rates
Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) Patient demographics, epidemiology, medical procedure volumes, healthcare cost, healthcare facility size, type, and ownership (U.S. only)
Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) Patient demographics, drug and healthcare spending, epidemiology, medical procedure volumes, health systems performance and characteristics (Canada only)
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Medical procedure volumes, drug and healthcare spending, healthcare resources, epidemiology by indication

While there are many general market research resources available for the U.S. and Canada, these public resources can help you to understand the potential market for your therapy by providing in-depth, healthcare-specific data on epidemiology, patient demographics, healthcare spending, and more.

Calculating your market size/penetration

Using epidemiological data and patient demographics provided by resources like WHO and expenditure data from CIHI, HCUP or OECD, you will be able to directly size your market or estimate market penetration. However, if you cannot locate the information you are looking for, you can estimate your patient pool by crossing population data with prevalence or incidence data sourced from academic journals, or expand your research into other free databases.

Mapping the competitive landscape

If you want to understand where your therapeutic market is headed, it is important to research your competitors. A public competitor’s annual report can offer a wealth of information beyond their revenue. Many corporations break their financial statements into geography, brand or therapeutic levels and accompany their data with commentary and analyses. This information can illustrate useful market trends, such as which geographies are experiencing the fastest growth or which technological trends are expected to transform the market. Of course, even the most spartan annual reports can be used to puzzle out market growth through year-over-year calculations, or estimate market size simply by adding up the annual revenue of the other players.

Emerging startups should keep an eye on their competitors’ annual reports and press releases, especially since mergers and acquisitions can signal landscape upheavals or major technological trends. Due to the technological and regulatory barriers inherent to healthcare, fragmented markets are rare and any change in the landscape can have a far-reaching impact.

International resources

For ventures that are interested in marketing their products outside of the U.S. or Canada, market research can be more difficult. Resources like OECD and WHO provide important high-level health data, but other websites can help you understand international healthcare systems. If you are interested in the European market, many countries host extensive government healthcare databases. The National Health Service (NHS) and Destatis offer rich data sources on procedural volumes, epidemiology, and healthcare policies in England and the European Union, which you can use to build your market model.