7 Questions for Successful Concept Testing with Healthcare Professionals


Pamela Waite,

In 25+ years of qualitative research with healthcare professionals, concept testing has proven to be the least favorite interview objective of theirs. I’ve heard, “I’m not an art director,” and “I really don’t like these types of interviews,” numerous times. In many cases this objective has elicited eyerolls, sighs, and groans.

It occurred to me that by asking questions that encourage the retrieval of pleasant, relaxing, even humorous memories or thoughts, medical professionals would be more likely to tap into their creative sides. Encouraging inventive responses, probing for visual aspects of memories, and allowing medical professionals to make up hypothetical, inventive, even silly answers, loosens up even the most staid physicians.

And I learned not to announce upfront that we’d be doing ‘concept testing’ for the duration of the interview.

The following are questions that I’ve asked physicians and medical professionals of all ilks. Some have been visibly disarmed by the questions, even giggling and laughing, which allowed them to use a less clinical, more expansive vocabulary and suggest design changes as if they were art directors.

  1. If you could go back to college, what course would you take today that you didn’t while you were following the recommended pre-med course of study? If the physician is stymied, suggest fictitious/humorous ‘Films of the 1970’s’ or ‘Egyptian Antiquities’ or ‘The Psychology of Baseball’

Reasoning: Have medical professional imagine taking other paths of study. 

  1. If you couldn’t be a physician/pharmacist/NP/PA, etc., what occupation would you choose outside of healthcare? (Assuming you could provide the same lifestyle).

Reasoning: Perhaps elicit more creative occupations s/he would have considered.

  1. What do you do better than most of your peers? And don’t be bashful about bragging!

Reasoning: Remind participant of her/his strengths, build confidence and curiosity as to the objective of the research.

  1. What would be your perfect vacation? Don’t let cost limit your imagination! (Probe for location, activities, food, etc.)

Reasoning: Have medical professional retrieve visual memories of pleasurable, relaxing times or imagine a wonderful place, things they’d do, how they’d dress, etc.

  1. What do you wish more patients would do in their appointment time with you?

Reasoning: Tap into medical professional’s unmet needs, which will undoubtedly be part of concept and copy.

  1. Why is your best friend your best friend?

Reasoning: Hopefully elicit adjectives of reliability, trustworthiness, problem-solving, steadfastness, etc.

  1. What non-pharmaceutical or non-invasive therapy that you’ve recommended do you wish more of your patients would take advantage of? (For example, exercise, physical therapy, occupational therapy, chiropractic care, dietician, mental health care, or acupuncture, etc.)

Reasoning: Get medical professional thinking about possible improvements to existing therapies (assumes concept is about new pharmaceutical or technology).

After a few or all of these questions, I then say to the healthcare professional that I want them to keep those visual cues in mind and use the same adjectives they’ve used to describe best friends and great vacations, and also remember their wistfulness around unfulfilled needs to “evaluate art and language” in a few examples that I’m going to show them.

*Note: Concept testing is most effective when a technology is utilized which allows the participant to physically move elements of a concept/change artwork, etc. on a white board, or when an online participant is allowed to digitally move elements by sharing the screen.

This inquiry process should elicit more thoughtful, more useful responses.