The methods used for data collection are based on various factors which include:
– The measures involved
– The type of data required – Quantitative vs Qualitative
– The participants and accessibility
– Environment & Setting where the data will be collected
– Time available and how long it will take the patient to complete
– Funding available and restraints
Having worked with a variety of researchers from multiple medical backgrounds, DCC have developed a thorough understanding of data collection methods and how best to conduct each one to ensure that a high response rate is achieved.
In most cases, researchers come to us with a sample or template of the forms that they intend to use for their research. Having worked on a wide scope of forms across multiple branches of health and medical research, DCC have beyond sufficient experience when it comes to form design and will do the best to ensure that re-designs are made to the highest standard. We work with the researchers to understand exactly the manner in which questions are asked and what the ideal answer format should be. Where applicable, we advise the people we work with where improvements can be made i.e. the way a question is asked such as using constraint fields as opposed to open text boxes. As with all research, ethics is a vital component and when it comes to the phrasing of the questions, it is important that responders do not feel they are being influenced by the wording of the question.
Where data is being collected across multiple sites and network infrastructure, there are many aspects of network connectivity, security and administration that need to be considered. In some cases paper may not be the preferred method and some situations require a multi-channel approach using both paper and electronic methods of data collection. Where necessary we can advise on these situations discussing features, functionality and costs.
Paper – Onsite
As with all research methodologis, each has its strengths and weaknesses when implementing it to collect data. Using paper forms is one of the most common ways to gather data. When designing a form on paper, printing costs can prove to be expensive, in particular if there is an extensive list of questions and if there is a lot of white space on the page, which in turn leads to an increase in page numbers. Many forms have been designed on Microsoft Word and hence sometimes do not make it easy for respondents to answer correctly. DCC use specialist intelligent form processing survey design software to quickly re-design a current form to minimise white space and develop specific question types with ease i.e. matrix grid, constraint fields and more.
It is worth noting that paper questionnaires should be kept short in length if being completed onsite at a hospital or GP environment as it can be a timely exercise for participants should there be too many questions, in particular if they have other priorities to attend to. If questionnaires are short in length, this may also encourage response rates. Keep in consideration that once the documents are completed they must remain securely stored as they will contain personal information, so ensure that security and storage space has been accounted for prior to using this methodology. Furthermore, the responses will have to be replicated via manual data entry at some point, or DCC can handle this element and extract the information automatically without the need for researchers to use up valuable time.
Paper – Postal
Postal questionnaires should be used when the length of the survey is particularly long and as a result respondents should have sufficient time to complete it before returning. Firstly, part of the funding will go on the costs of postage both outbound and returns, as well as purchasing the physical envelopes. The contents of the envelope will dictate the cost to send and receive each questionnaire pack. Postal questionnaires should be used to cater towards those who may not have access to a PC / tablet or quite simply prefer to complete the survey via paper.
Secondly, it is usually worth having a reminder mail out to maximise the number of responses recorded and to achieve a required number of participants. Take into consideration the additional printing and postage costs this will incur. To reduce the amount of expenditure on the second mail out, only send a reminder to non-responders. These people can be identified by assigning an ID to each participant and cross referencing the returns with this list to determine who has responded and who has not. Once again these forms will have to be replicated into an electronic database either via manual data entry or using DCC’s services so account for a potential time delay.
Using a tablet device onsite to collect data can prove to be quite convenient as it removes the element of manual data entry as the data is saved in an electronic format automatically. The functionality with a tablet device means questions can be displayed better without worrying about space. In addition, users can zoom into questions should they be unable to read the current size of the text. As a researcher you will also need to take into consideration the cost associated to purchasing a tablet if the environment you are in does not have one.
Within hospitals and GP’s, having access to connectivity can sometimes prove an issue. It is important that if a survey is being completed online, that connectivity is available in order for the data to be sent to the database or be saved. In some cases it is possible to save responses while offline and then initiate a sync when a connection becomes available. However, it is important to make sure this function is available with the survey provider before assuming that responses will be saved.
The tablet can either be given to the participant allowing them to complete it or can be done almost as an interview whereby the researcher asks and shows the question to the individual who gives the responses. Ensure that the participant is able to see the responses you are selecting so that they know you are not altering the answers that are given.
The benefit of an online form is that users are able to complete the surveys at a time convenient for them. This is particularly useful when the survey is lengthy and a lot of questions are asked. Considering so many people are smartphone or tablet owners, try to utilise a survey service which will automatically make the survey design compatible with mobile and tablet devices. By offering multiple channels of completion, the participant is more likely to complete the survey as they will choose a method convenient for them.
Should the survey contain a lot of questions and therefore consume a lot of time, be aware of the possibility of survey fatigue. Survey fatigue is a problem which occurs when the respondent begins to lose interest in answering questions and as a result the answers that are produced from this point onwards may be questioned in terms of validity as they may produce false answers to simply complete the survey as soon as possible.