Asia Medical & Professional Research

Tips for Medical/ Healthcare Research in Japan


Payor/ Key Opinion Leader

Japan uses a single-payor national health system, and the national health ministry sets the reimbursement levels for approved drugs and devices. The working committee that makes recommendations to the ministry generally includes ministry officials and Key Opinion Leaders. Ministry officials rarely participate in research. However, Key Opinion Leaders who are likely to influence the discussion may participate in research, and they may be inferred by their research and reputation.
  • TIP: For access research, focus on Key Opinion Leaders in the specific therapy area as respondents, and plan to start the research process with these KOL 3-5 years before the application to the national health ministry.    

Specialties and Therapies 

The "Internist" specialty in Japan is similar to a PCP and may cover a number of therapies. In some therapies, a patient starts treatment with an "Internist", then is referred to another specialist for treatment of serious or acute conditions, and may return to a an "Internist" for continuing care. So, the relationship between therapy areas and specialist labels is different in Japan than other countries.  
  • TIP: Design the sample qualifications based on the actual treatment situation in Japan, based on expert in-market advice. 

Research Schedules

Healthcare professionals have limited availability due to long work hours and many professional responsibilities. Availability for interviews is usually limited to weekday evenings and weekends.
  • TIP: For viewing research in person, plan to schedule up to 3 hours of research on a weekday evening, on a weekend day up to 8 hours can be scheduled, but requires muliple interviewers. 

Group Interview vs. IDI

The medical profession has a distinct professional hierarchy, with physicians at prestigious hospitals and graduates of elite medical schools at the top. During a group discussion, participants generally defer to those physicians with higher status. So, in-depth interviews generally provide deeper and more varied information than group interviews. Nevertheless, if it is practical to use an online platform for a group discussion, this lessens the negative impact of the hierarchy on the discussion.
  • TIP: For methodology, consider IDI as the first option for the richest information. Consider online as an option for group discussions among PCPs.

Online vs. Telephone and In-person

Online panels are responsive and reliable - for large samples or long surveys consider online panels as the first option. However, telephone and in-person interviews are recommended when showing stimulus materials, interviewing medical specialists, or interviewing dental or animal healthcare professionals.
  • TIP: Plan for in-person research when showing stimulus materials or interviewing smaller specialties. For other cases, online research is recommended.  

Privacy Protection and the Privacy Mark

Personal information is protected under law in Japan. In order to maintain privacy protection, we keep the information chain as short and limited as possible. We generally restrict the handling of personal private information to the recruiting function only, and do not retain that information in our client service function. All organizations in Japan must comply with the law. An organization may hire a non-governmental auditor to certify its process for compliance in order to obtain the Privacy Mark.
  • TIP: If the project calls for you to receive personal information or recordings of respondents, designate someone in your organization to handle the information, and keep records of when the information is received and deleted. Ask your supplier whether the recruiting and management of personal information is audited according to the Privacy Mark. 

Adverse Effect Reports

Healthcare professionals are familiar with the requirement to provide AE information. Our moderators and interviews are trained and experienced to identify and record AE cases during research. 
  • TIP: Moderators generally have an overall competence to record AEs. However, as pharma companies have various training and reporting needs, plan to review the AE protocol at the beginning of a project.
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