Op4G Blog

Beyond the Laboratory: Using Op4G Surveys for Medical Research

Posted by Meghan Sullivan on April 17, 2017

When people think of medical research, they often envision test tubes, Bunsen burners, and scientists in lab coats. But not all medical research happens in the laboratory. In many cases, such research occurs in the comfort of peoples’ homes through – you guessed it – online surveys!

In fact, according to a recent study of U.S. healthcare providers, 2/3 of respondents used surveys to measure patient feedback (on their healthcare experience, doctor performance etc.)[i]. A further 1/3 of respondents used surveys to monitor patient diets and health habits, such as exercising or taking prescribed medications[ii].

The applications don’t end there. Surveys can provide valuable medical data on specific communities, like women or teenagers. They can gauge interest in—and use of—health programs (on weight loss, smoking cessation, stress reduction, childbirth etc.). They can help evaluate health insurance options and identify barriers to healthcare access. They can even play a role in relief efforts by tracking vaccinations or quickly “triag[ing] the healthcare needs of disaster survivors”[iii].

Whatever the use, medical surveys come with some challenges. First, because all the data is self-reported, there is the risk of bias. Survey takers may be “uncomfortable or unwilling to share information that does not reflect well on them in their social environment”[iv] (social desirability bias). They may also “bend their answers”[v] to better reflect how they think they should be, rather than how they truly are (self-evaluation bias). Finally, survey takers may simply forget information on their past experience. After all, “human memory is very plastic” and “people’s recollections may be inaccurate”[vi].

Fortunately, careful survey questions and design can help minimize such biases. For example, indirect questions (like “what will your family think if you receive medical treatment?”) can reduce social desirability bias but still elicit the desired information (as the survey taker often responds with his/her own view). Additionally, asking questions in “order of increasing sensitivity” can help “build a level of comfort with the respondents”[vii]. Op4G staff are highly knowledgeable in such techniques.

Secondly, medical surveys often target niche populations. Consider, for example, the types of medical surveys listed in paragraphs 2 and 3 above. They generally target people of a specific gender, age group, body type, lifestyle, socio-economic class, location etc. Sometimes, finding a sufficient number of such people (to ensure statistical accuracy) is extremely difficult. But not for Op4G…

Op4G has access to an extensive database of survey takers. These survey takers, or “members”, represent a diverse array of demographic groups. The database is capable of meeting client needs. If not, Op4G is adept at finding the required individuals through medical publications, and recruitment campaigns with one of our 300+ non-profit partners (72 of which support a medical related cause).

Finally, a third challenge with medical surveys is ensuring privacy for survey takers. As information shared in medical surveys is highly personal, it demands protection and anonymity. This is not only ethical but required under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule[viii].

At Op4G, privacy is a top priority. “Each element of Opinions 4 Good is designed to fiercely protect our members’ privacy and information”[ix]. For example, we store personal and survey data in two separate server environments. We encrypt sensitive data using secure socket layer technology. And we assign non-traceable unique Opinions4Good usernames in information sent to clients. These (and other) security features have earned Op4G a TRUSTe Privacy Seal[x].

In summary, medical research can extend beyond the laboratory. Sometimes, surveys are just what the doctor ordered! Of course, survey research is not without challenges. But Op4G is here to support you every step of the way! To learn more about our medical research capabilities, please download the Op4G Medical One-Pager or contact Support@Op4G.com

Health Medical Research Panel


Topics: Market Research, Surveys, medical research

Written by Meghan Sullivan

Meghan works part-time for Op4G, assisting primarily with Op4G’s social media, blog, and monthly newsletter. Based in Ottawa, Canada, Meghan completed her Bachelor of Arts degree at Wellesley College and Oxford University. She then earned a Master of Public Policy degree at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. In addition to her work at Op4G, Meghan is a Senior Policy Advisor. She is an avid athlete, playing both varsity basketball and softball in university. Meghan is also passionate about international and environmental issues and volunteers for several related non-profits.