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Mind the (Communication) Gap

How inVibe Identifies and Addresses HCP-Patient Misalignment

By Janine Karo

Thu Apr 13 2023

The Benefit of Constructed Communication

Hearing from a variety of healthcare stakeholders is crucial to getting a full picture of the current market. One approach to this kind of well-rounded research is to listen to naturally occurring HCP-patient conversations. Being a fly on the wall certainly has its advantages; you’re able to (in theory) unobtrusively observe how these two groups move through a range of topics in an authentic setting. But true dialogue studies have their challenges. Below are some of the concerns we’ve heard from customers about ‘traditional’ approaches to HCP-patient dialogue research:

  • Studies are too time-consuming and subsequently cost too much. For one, in-office dialogue studies can be time-consuming to pursue, requiring analysts to sift through hours of data for only a few snippets of relevant conversation.
  • The data quality of the recorded conversations is unreliable and hard to generalize. Additionally, natural dialogue may not, well, naturally cover all points of interest for the client team. Subscribing to the quirks and whims of a real HCP-patient interaction means that vital questions may go unanswered. On top of that, there is no way to control the unique characteristics of every conversational nuance, so trends become harder to identify with certainty.
  • The ‘why’ behind what is said is unclear. Lastly, while hearing conversations unfold can be intriguing, it is often unclear as to what each stakeholder is thinking and what is actually driving key decisions. This is especially true on the patient front, as they can be notoriously quiet during in-office visits.

inVibe’s "Constructed Communication" solution enables clients to access relevant dialogue data more quickly and systematically than traditional methods—as well as understand the ‘why’ behind the patterns. In this methodology, our team of trained linguists intentionally designs two phases of voice research to simulate typical HCP-patient interactions, with authentic patient audio clips from Phase 1 serving as stimuli for HCPs in Phase 2 and vice versa. Through this approach, we uncover key moments that matter regarding the condition in question, its symptoms, and treatment options. From the specific lexicons HCPs and patients use when discussing symptoms to the larger communicative dynamics at play in a treatment discussion, we identify what is working well in the current conversation and where conversations can be optimized. Such an approach facilitates a broad understanding of the current landscape and provides clients with strategic, actionable insights informed by our experience across the spectrum of market research.


A Case Study: "Constructed Communication" in Action

inVibe recently partnered with a mid-sized pharmaceutical company in the dermatologic space that wished to understand how patients and HCPs communicated and felt about a particular condition. Specifically, our client hoped to a) uncover the natural language HCPs and patients use to talk about symptoms and treatments, and b) identify effective communication strategies and current misunderstandings between parties.

To achieve this goal, we deployed our "Constructed Communication" solution: a multi-phase voice-powered research study. In Phase 1, inVibe screened and recruited 10 patients and 10 HCPs with relevant dermatological experience to participate in an automated phone interview, responding to questions simply by speaking. The most representative and thought-provoking voices captured in Phase 1 of research served as stimuli for Phase 2, where 20 patients reacted to the voices of real HCPs and 35 HCPs listened to the voices of real patients to create an interactive communicative environment. Then, we got to work analyzing the HCP and patient perspectives and synthesizing them into one dynamic report.

Overall, this approach yielded a rich data set and a plethora of insights into the diagnosis journey, severity and quality of life issues, the broad treatment landscape, and the specific class of treatments our client’s product belongs to. However, we identified three particularly critical gaps in HCP-patient communication with clearly defined paths for resolution.


1) Rectifying Assignment of Blame: "The other thing that I'd like to share is my own experience where I had my first flare-up as a minor, prepubescent, and I was significantly thinner, was within the range of weight I should have been for my height, was not obese at all, was not smoking or partaking any poor behavior. So, what are the other factors that contribute to this disease? Because age, obesity, and smoking are not it." 


First of all, HCPs often approach initial diagnosis conversations by connecting patients’ bothersome symptoms to lifestyle factors like smoking and obesity. Though HCPs may perceive this discussion as purely informative and unproblematic, patients interpret this association as blame for ‘causing’ their condition. Consequently, patients either feel ashamed and are disinterested in pursuing further treatment or vocally disagree with this assertion and defend themselves. Either way, this sense of blame can strain HCP-patient relationships from the start. To remedy this fraught exchange, we recommended that HCPs forge a strong and trusting relationship with patients by reassuring them that they are not to blame for their symptoms, which may lead to better diagnosis discussions.

2) Driving Earlier Action: "[…] If you're going to take the time to do the step-to-step approach, that means things aren't getting solved, so you're adding another layer to another layer to another layer. My advice would be skip the topical because they don't ever work for anybody. Go straight to the antibioticsand then, if those don't work, see a surgeon, cut it out." 

Secondly, patients and HCPs also have distinct perceptions of the standard treatment approach. HCPs regularly employ the stepwise method, starting patients off with topicals and progressing to ‘stronger’ options. However, patients express frustration over this pathway; they perceive starting ‘slow’ as a waste of time that only acts as a barrier to getting efficacious treatments in a timely manner. We advised the client to activate patients to vocalize their first-choice therapy and detail their symptom experience early on in treatment discussions, as patient preference and symptom severity may prompt HCPs to prescribe later-line therapies sooner. 

3) Combatting Safety Concerns: "[…] there's a lot of side effects that go along with it. He said he's not too concerned with it, but I am because I wouldn't want to deal with those […] I'm open to just trying things, different things out, but I just wouldn't want to risk the different side effects and long-term symptoms and things like that." 

Finally, we heard skepticism from patients about the safety of the client’s drug class. Despite HCPs brushing over side effect discussions as something they’re "not too concerned" about, patients are certainly worried about what short- and long-term effects that kind of treatment might have on them. For patients, safety is a paramount factor when considering whether to try a treatment, so HCP nonchalance about it is frustratingly vague rather than reassuring. We suggested HCPs need to simply and transparently establish the client’s new treatment safety profile to mitigate patient concerns. Additionally, to garner more patient buy-in despite any hesitations about side effects, HCPs could frame the new treatment as a preventative and convenient option that keeps patients’ symptoms at a minimum on a schedule that works for them.

Get the full picture faster

Ultimately, we believe that inVibe’s "Constructed Communication" approach is a quick and targeted way to identify communication successes and missteps between stakeholder groups—as well as the ‘why’ behind them. Our intentionally designed prompts paired with stimulating soundbytes evoke robust, pertinent discussion that illuminates crucial gaps in the conversation. With our insights, our dermatologic client was able to design appropriate, well-thought-out materials, including a conversational reference guide. Yet this methodology is broadly applicable. From rheumatology to neurology, from pipeline to approved treatments, we can make more impactful recommendations to optimizeconversation and improve product perceptions.

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