2020 was a very difficult year for everyone. It affected us all personally. Some businesses were hit harder than others. How did your business do? I have a friend in the restaurant business, they were really hit hard. Some of our clients immediately began to lay off employees. As a market research company that works with hundreds of other research firms in the healthcare industry, we could be considered a barometer of the patient research business. And I do have some good news about 2020. Based on the patient work we did with these companies, 2020 was actually a good year. We worked on nearly 1200 projects, up 12% from 2019. We paid patients $1.5 million for taking part. And the good business, in my mind, wasn’t due to Covid, but in spite of it.
We were concerned when Covid hit. Many clinical trials were put on hold – not a great time to ask patients to come in to the clinical sites, usually hospitals. And with clinical trials on hold, new product development would be delayed. And most of the work that we recruit patients for are for new product development. But the industry adapted. Remote or decentralized clinical trials, a great idea, took off. Our clients, market research firms, and their clients, pharma and biotech mostly, all worked from home and didn’t miss a beat. One day when everyone started to work from home, Monday, March 16, 2020, everything stopped. We usually get about 30 proposal requests a day, on that day we got only 9. We win from 5-10 new projects a day, and we won only 1 that day. But it wasn’t the industry shutting down. It was everyone getting IT to set up their home office! By the next day, things were back to normal!
The one thing we noticed was that many payments were coming into us more slowly. But that may be more due to post office problems than to client cash flow problems. We got a check in the mail today that was sent 7 weeks ago! Fortunately, many clients have switched to electronic payments. Before Covid, about 2/3rds of our payments were by paper check. Now about 2/3rds are electronic funds transfer.
We usually recruit a lot of our patients in person at events, but that wasn’t happening, so we had to redouble our efforts to work with advocacy groups, online support groups, and patient referrals. It worked, we’ve continued to grow our panels. We even added another social media outreach person to our payroll. But we eagerly await the reopening of patient events, to put our part-time Patient Advocacy Team back to work, it is so great to meet people in person.
We got so bullish, as you may know, we’ve begun to expand to Europe! We’re bringing on a new Assistant Project Manager. I’ve felt a little guilty that we in healthcare market research haven’t suffered, but we shouldn’t feel that way, we should take advantage of our good fortune.
We can’t wait for everyone to get their vaccines, so we can all get out again, and the restaurants can stop suffering. How did you do in 2020?