Published 1/1/2008
Lewis Jenkins, MBA

Mapping an orthopaedist’s mind—from the inside

How many opinion surveys have you received in the last year? Judging by the number of non-AAOS organizations eager to learn more about orthopaedic surgeons, in 1 year an AAOS fellow may receive 20 or more such surveys. The groups eager to learn about you, your professional references, your lifestyle, your politics, and your attitudes can range from device manufacturers to insurance companies and from pharmaceuticals to the AMA.

How many of those surveys came from the Academy? If all went according to AAOS plans, perhaps you received only four or five. “We recognize the value of our members’ time, and we tread delicately,” says Chief Executive Officer Karen L. Hackett, FACHE, CAE. “We try to send no more than one or two surveys to a member per calendar quarter—just often enough to provide us with guidance when we need it. We also keep questionnaires short, measuring the intensity of feeling about a single issue, product, or concept.”

Knowing just what questions to ask is key, according to Jeff Morton, manager of marketing research. “We rely on the experience of volunteers working with staff to provide the broad understanding of an issue. But, before we write even the first survey question, we use one or more focus groups to explore an issue and uncover the motivations that help explain why people do what they do,” he explains. “Sometimes focus groups confirm the validity of a hypothesis instead of uncovering new information—that’s helpful too.”

Why focus groups?
Focus group research offers a fast, inexpensive, and flexible way to solicit input in diverse arenas. The AAOS uses focus groups to test user reactions, perceptions, and attitudes as well as help refine strategic directions. The groups are often comprised of attendees at the AAOS Annual Meeting or at a clinical skills course at the Academy’s Orthopaedic Learning Center (OLC).

Every focus group relies on the following three elements for its success:

  • carefully screened and selected participants
  • a discussion guide (that lifts the group from a conversation to research)
  • a final report that captures the nuances of emotion and motivations that help explain consumer behavior

Shared experience
Focus group screening makes certain that all participants are in a relevant target market and share some important experience(s). For example, they may be orthopaedic surgeons who have been in practice for less than 10 years and who have participated in at least three surgical skills courses during the past 3 years. These commonalities make the discussion more likely to reflect the opinions of similar physicians.

According to Mr. Morton, groups usually have fewer than 10 participants, so the sample size is simply too small for statistical projections. But, he adds, “We do get a feel for what’s important and the language physicians use when discussing the topic. This makes focus groups an important part of our research efforts.”

Open-ended questions
The group moderator uses a discussion guide that outlines a series of open-ended questions marking the parameters of the subject area being explored. The questions may be fairly broad, but with some nudging from a good moderator, the group’s free flow of ideas can quickly settle on the topics under investigation.

The final report
The final focus group report synthesizes and interprets what was spoken/meant, as reflected in the participants’ words, body language, and emotional intensity. A professional moderator incorporates these aspects of the group experience without injecting him/herself into the report.

“This is qualitative information,” says Mr. Morton. “It is not statistical, not projectable, and not representative of an entire population. But it does provide an important level of insight into the minds of AAOS members. It’s a critical tool for crafting the questions that are later included in a survey.”

If you’re asked to be part of a focus group when you attend a future AAOS Annual Meeting or OLC surgical skills course, consider accepting the invitation. You will be ushered into a room with other orthopaedic surgeons who share some behavior or experience with you. The ensuing conversation is guaranteed to be stimulating and certainly will be relevant to you and/or your practice—as well as to the Academy.

Lewis Jenkins, MBA, is AAOS director of marketing. He can be reached at jenkins@aaos.org

Previous topics
Previous focus groups have discussed the following topics:

  • Resident’s needs assessment
  • Journal of the AAOS
  • Recognizing volunteer efforts and contributions
  • Nonattendance at the AAOS Annual Meeting
  • Maintenance of Certification
  • Physician assistants
  • Orthopaedic practice management
  • Bulletin/AAOS Now

Beyond focus groups
Join an Academy group of orthopaedic surgeons who volunteer to complete short product-related surveys. The Orthopaedic Opinion Group (OOG) comments roughly once a quarter on products it receives from the AAOS. Responses are generally via the Internet.

Responses from the OOG are tabulated as a group to provide insights and commentary on existing or planned products. Your privacy is ensured; reports always aggregate the comments.

If you are interested in joining the OOG, e-mail oog@aaos.org with Orthopaedic Opinion Group in the subject line and your full name and mailing address in the message body. OOG enrollment is limited, so if you wish to participate, send that e-mail today.