Medical Market Research in India

Medical Market Research in India

India has four major cities that are common destinations for medical market researchers: Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, and Bangalore.

Our recent experience was in Mumbai and Delhi, where physicians will not travel to a focus group facility, and interviewing them in person requires that you visit their hospital or office. One can only hope for two to three interviews in one day with this method, given the distances traveled, and the uncertainty of the respondents’ schedules.

Traffic density can be extraordinary. Some roads were filled with cars, trucks, 3-wheeled taxis, bikes and motorcycles carrying people or freight, people on foot, and occasional animals. A good investment is to hire a local driver for the entire day.

Further, we benefited by traveling with a local researcher, who helped with the process of getting into the hospitals and finding the physician respondents.

These are enormous and geographically spread-out cities. Careful planning helps a great deal, to avoid long drives to distant parts of the city – which can take hours. Public transportation was never recommended for us by our local researchers.

While physicians and most of the people we worked with spoke English, it is not the same as American English, and it requires some concentration and sometimes assistance for easy communication. (The researchers and the respondents all spoke Hindi with each other unless there was a reason to speak English.)

Indian physicians we interviewed were not as accustomed to market research as physicians in the US. For some, we had to provide an explanation of what we were doing, justify the audio recording, and so on. As a foreign moderator, I was advised against a standard US formality: At the start of an interview, I usually reconfirm with the respondent that the planned length of the interview fits his or her schedule. Agreeing to a set time can make a respondent feel that they are not as busy as they would want to be.

Driving through Delhi.

Driving through Delhi.


Heavy traffic at dusk, with a family on a motorcycle. Dashboard elephant.

Heavy traffic at dusk, with a family on a motorcycle. Dashboard elephant.


Mumbai skyline; heading to an interview at a hospital on the far side of this downtown area, 2 hours away.

Mumbai skyline; heading to an interview at a hospital on the far side of this downtown area, 2 hours away.


Here are a few considerations for planning qualitative work in India:

  1. Look for a way to engage Indian physicians in market research without the necessity of going to each hospital. You might consider a telephone methodology, or a clinical conference/meeting, or some other option, even if it means altering your preferred timeline and methodology. The time required for driving and waiting, for each face-to-face interview, makes the total cost in terms of my time extremely high.
  2. If you must actually visit hospitals, set your expectations properly, and plan to conduct just a limited number of site visits each day. Consider scheduling only a single morning interview and another afternoon interview, and find a place near the second interview to stop and work, get online, etc. As an alternative, consider sending two teams to each city, so they could trade places during the day, each handling half the interviews.
  3. Work to plan your logistics efficiently, so for example, you conduct two interviews in sequence in roughly the same part of the city, or choose a hotel that is nearest to the greater number of respondent locations, or even stay one night in a different location in order to reduce the travel time.
  4. Be sure in advance that the respondents will know what to expect, so interview time with them is used most effectively. In India, we had a record number of respondents who were unsure of our purposes, and a few who were put off by our presence, in spite of having a good screener and experienced schedulers.

Travel Tips: India

  • US citizens need a visa to enter India. Obtaining a visa can take 6 weeks, although there are ways to speed the process. Plan well in advance.
  • The unit of Indian currency is the rupee, which is worth about 1.5 US cents in late 2016. If you want to have about US$100 in India, go to an ATM and check out 6,800 INR. Here is a website that shows the current value of 1 rupee, and how that value has varied in recent months.
  • India uses one time zone, and it is 10½ hours ahead of Chicago time during the summer (Daylight Savings Time), and 11½ hours ahead during the winter (Standard time). India does not have a summer time change. Here is a website that will show you what time it is right now in India.
  • Don’t be surprised if you find a high level of security in place in India. You might notice: searches of your car (hood, trunk, underneath) as you enter your hotel parking lot; pat-downs on entering hotels and hospitals; x-ray of luggage at the hotel and in an additional security line at the airport; guards or observers around the hotel and in the elevator.
  • In Mumbai, the airport terminal used for domestic travel is so far from the international terminal that locals view them as different airports entirely (but they share the three-digit airport code BOM). Do not assume that you know how far it is to “the airport” unless you are sure whether you are talking about the domestic or the international terminal.
  • Electrical outlets in India require a large adapter, which is similar to the one used in the UK, but not the same.
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