Today's News

Friday, March 12, 2004

Members' opinions count in focus group

By Lewis Jenkins

It's 6 a.m. and no educational programming is scheduled yet on this second day of the 2004 Annual Meeting. It's focus group time!

While many orthopaedic surgeons are awake and moving about, a few are filing into a comfortable meeting room in a major hotel near the Moscone Convention Center. They are about to participate in a research program that will influence future Academy decisions across a number of areas.

The Academy is sponsoring a series of focus groups to learn more about members' opinions on topics ranging from maintenance of certification to orthopaedic advocacy. Focus groups are used to explore a group's reaction to a common set of questions about a topic, idea or proposed program or product.

Focus group research is used in such diverse arenas as consumer package/durable goods development, advertising and politics. They are used to test reactions, perceptions and attitudes as well as to refine strategic directions. For almost a decade, the Academy has used in-house staff to manage and now conduct a series of focus group studies among fellows and residents attending the Annual Meeting. The Academy has perhaps the largest focus group program of any medical specialty organization.

Research here and now
At this year's Annual Meeting, a select group of fellows were invited to discuss issues that bear on the Academy's future development of educational products, elements of the Annual Meeting and support for major medical liability initiatives.

Working from a discussion guide that structures the conversation, the focus group moderator carefully probes the participants' views on a problem, product, idea or issue.

"Orthopaedic surgeons don't hold back their opinions," said Mark Samuels, an Academy staff member who is leading several of the focus groups. "They are used to speaking their minds. My job as moderator is to cover all the questions in the discussion guide-so we get the information we are after-and to make sure that all the participants get the chance to be heard. Later, I will be involved in writing the research report based on the focus group."

The group is aware that the process is being videotaped and that Academy staff members are observing the discussion from a remote location. Later, trained marketing research professionals like Heather Freeman pour over the tapes to extract the group's responses, attitudes and opinions, the manner in which the problems are framed, the language used and the overall perceptions.

"The opinions and observations of a group of 10 to 12 people are often fascinating," said Karen L. Hackett, FACHE, CAE, and Academy CEO. "However, we know that the sample size is too small to 'take the results to the bank.' So we often use focus groups to help shape or refine the questions we will use on a mail survey that later will go to thousands of members and provide more statistically reliable results. Our overall goal is to identify and accurately gauge the needs and opinions of Academy members and then act on this information."

A successful approach
For decades, this approach has been successful for consumer product manufacturers, political groups, non-profit organizations, and other applications where end-user feedback is crucial for strategic decision-making. It's an excellent way to explore member attitudes and perceptions. And, now it's a regular part of the Academy's tactics to discover what members want in terms of services, products, advocacy positions and educational programs.

Since 1996, the Academy has hosted more than 20 focus groups a year. Orthopaedic surgeons have volunteered their time to discuss topics on a wide variety of subjects. Any major congregation of fellows may be fair game as a focus group venue. The Academy has had most success at the Annual Meeting and at Orthopaedic Learning Center (OLC) courses where there are more than enough surgeons to fill a focus group

"We know that orthopaedic surgeons are bombarded with requests for their opinion," said AAOS Second Vice President Stuart Weinstein, MD. "So, we're delighted with the response we've been getting from our members to participate in focus groups and to complete our surveys. Our research program helps move the Academy toward our goal of becoming a 'knowledge-based' organization that makes decisions based on data."

"When we last went through the re-accreditation process that allows us to offer CME credit for our programs, we were given an Exemplary rating for needs assessment," said Mark W. Wieting, chief education officer of the Academy. "Focus groups are a key part of that process. We are not aware of another medical society that seeks out so many members' opinions as consistently and frequently."

Your invitation
So, if you are invited to participate in an Academy focus group at the Annual Meeting or an OLC course, try to squeeze it into your schedule. It's an excellent opportunity to help provide direction for critical future Academy programs and to become part of the process. The topic will always be relevant. The discussion with your peers will always be interesting. And the breakfast will always be a great way to start your day.

Lewis Jenkins is the Academy's director of marketing and customer service.

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Last modified 12/March/2004