Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - 22:30
Asif Javed

There has been widespread coverage of fraud in market research recently. The leading German news magazine Der Spiegel highlighted unethical practises in their detailed analysis of over 600 market research studies. In one particular case, market research for a leading cancer medication was knowingly completed by fraudulent respondents.  The coverage extended to national television and caused significant concern in pharma company HQ’s.

Many of us working in marketing and market research are not entirely surprised by these reports, from time to time there are always suspicions raised regarding quantitative market research data which doesn't quite make sense or the respondent in a central location facility who is clearly not who they say they are!  

What Do Pharma Market Researchers (PMRs)Think?

Many PMRs I have spoken to are concerned about the issue and the impact it is having on trust and confidence in the work they do. They recognise this is a problem and are asking their insights providers more probing questions to ensure they are not at risk.   However due to the complex supply chain in healthcare market research increasing the systemic risk of fake data, some of the assurances given must be taken with a fair degree of caution.

A look at recent GRIT surveys (Green Book Industry Trends), the largest research study with respondents working in MR reveals confidence in sample quality is at an all time low, with clients and MR agencies believing the problem is getting worse.  

The truth is it is impossible to compensate for the impact of having fraudulent respondents in your data set, there is no magic adjustment you can make and the fact is if you suspect you may have fraudulent data in your study you can not rely on the data to make sound decisions.

Time For Us To Address The Elephant in The Room?

There is a reluctance by some PMRs to give this issue the importance and airtime it deserves. It’s not a nice topic, the thought of fake respondents being in your data set is uncomfortable for all of us. 

Why Is It Happening To Us?

The complex supply chain in pharma MR involving MR agencies, panel companies and lots of local fieldwork agencies increases the systemic risks of fake data. Added to this complexity is respondent anonymity, self-policing of quality controls and data collection firms working under severe cost and time pressures. 

There are also a number of websites encouraging physicians to game the system by suggesting they register for panel research under multiple specialities and encouraging medical students to claim to be qualified.

Added to this are developments in technology, with increasingly sophisticated hackers and bots. One bot affectionately called Coby, The Ultimate Survey Bot (http://www.ultimatesurveybot.com/) is designed to complete fraudulent surveys at high speed without detection. The Ultimate Survey Bot has a testimonial from one user who claims he has given up his day job.

We Have To Take Action - The Status Quo Is No Longer An Option

We need to do things differently to address the systemic problems that are causing fake data. There is an urgent need for independent validation of the authenticity of market research respondents. In a world of AI and machine learning this can be done effectively and within the ethical guidelines of market research. Companies such as Assure BrandPanels can independently generate physician samples frames, which a clients MR and fieldwork agencies can use for recruitment. These sample frames are verified and vetted. Using AI and Machine learning algorithms it is possible to independently verify if a respondent completing the survey is authentic, and someone who matters to your brand. Let’s ensure we push our industry to drive up quality standards, after all we want to sleep well at night with the reassurance our insights are based on verified, vetted and valued physicians !