If you are carrying out any type of market research study, one of the very first things you need to do is gain the informed consent of your participants. According to the MRS Code of Conduct, “informed consent is a process by which a participant voluntarily confirms his or her willingness to take part in a particular project, after having been informed of all aspects of the project that are relevant to their decision to participate”. Likewise, ESOMAR’s Data Protection Checklist states that consent must be free, specific and informed, and one of the first things the BHBIA says in their Legal and Ethical Guidelines is that “you must obtain informed consent from market research respondents, willingly given, to collect and use their data”.
This is the case in all types of market research - however, when it comes to the often sensitive and personal data collected in healthcare market research, informed consent is arguably even more important. In general, the more sensitive, intrusive or non-obvious the data collection, the higher the standard of consent that is required, with the BHBIA stating that “in cases where you are collecting and using sensitive personal data, you must obtain explicit consent”. In addition, consent should always be granted freely and may be withdrawn by the respondent at any time.
It’s easy to see why it’s so important to gain informed consent before healthcare market research begins - but what about re-contacting respondents after the research has taken place? Are the rules and regulations as strict? Well, in a nutshell, yes. Read on for more information…
The re-contacting rules
According to the BHBIA Guidelines, you can only re-contact respondents if they have already given consent for you to do so. That means that if you think you might wish to contact a respondent again - even if only for simple clarification - you must obtain their consent during the recruitment stage. If you are only re-contacting them for MR quality control purposes or data validation, you don’t need to obtain consent - however, if you know that you’ll definitely need to re-contact your respondents for a second stage or for follow-up research, you must make this perfectly clear and get consent at recruitment stage. And if you are carrying out research with children and young people, ESOMAR states that you need to seek consent for re-contact from both the responsible adult and the child separately. Find out more about consent and carrying out research with children here.
In order to gain consent, you must tell any respondents who agree to be re-contacted what the purpose of the contact is as well as who will be contacting them. The BHBIA Guidelines recommend including questions about re-contact that relate to the study and clearly communicating their purpose - for example, whether you will be re-contacting them as a second stage of the study, to ask any extra questions or to explore an issue further. You need to be specific - the question “May we contact you for future research?” isn’t going to cut it as it’s too unspecific and more of a panel building question. Not only that, but it also offers respondents the opportunity to opt out of all future projects by answering no - in which case you would never be able to contact them again which you definitely don’t want! So it’s very important that you word your questions correctly and are specific about exactly what you are asking from your respondents and why.
The data retention period
According to the BHBIA Legal and Ethical Guidelines, if your respondents have given their explicit consent then you can keep their contact details on file in order to contact them again about taking part in future market research. In this instance they must have agreed to both being re-contacted again and their personal data being held on file - and they must also agree that they can be re-contacted even though the nature of any future research isn't known yet. The rules might seem strict, but it’s really important to gain consent in order to protect your respondents from repeated and uninvited contact. According to the ESOMAR Data Protection Checklist, once you’ve gained consent you should set data retention periods that are are as short as possible - but at the same time it’s important not to destroy personal data too quickly since quality checks will still need to be performed during the data process. The data retention period will also vary depending on whether the respondents are panelists or non-panelists, with shorter retention periods applying to personal data about non-panel participants who only participate in ad hoc research.
In conclusion, there are a number of rules and regulations in place surrounding the re-contacting of participants in market research. Not only will this protect research respondents from frequent and uninvited contact, but it’s understandably incredibly important in healthcare market research where explicit and informed consent is mandatory. If you’d like to find out more about conducting successful healthcare market research, download our guide here.