Survey User's Guide

Chapter 2. Getting Started

Before you begin, it is important to understand the basic tasks involved in a survey data collection process and decide who will manage the project. This chapter is designed to guide you through the planning stage of your project.

Determine Available Resources, Project Scope, and Schedule

Two of the most important elements of an effective project are a clear budget to determine the scope of your data collection effort and a realistic schedule. Therefore, to plan the scope of the project, you need to think about your available resources. You may want to ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much money and/or resources are available to conduct this project?
  • Who within the medical office, practice, or system is available to work on this project?
  • When do I need to have the survey results completed and available?
  • Do we have the technical capabilities to conduct this project in the medical office, or do we need to consider using an outside company or vendor for some or all of the tasks?

You should read this entire user guide before deciding on a budget and the project's scope, because this document outlines the tasks that need to be accomplished. Each task has interrelated cost and scheduling implications to consider. Use the following guidelines to determine your budget and plan:

  • Consider all the project tasks and whether the tasks will be performed in-house (in the medical office, system headquarters, or both) or through an outside company or vendor.
  • Develop initial budget and scheduling estimates and revise as needed given your available resources, existing deadlines, and project implementation decisions.
  • Include a cushion for unexpected expenses, and account for tasks that may take longer than expected.

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Plan Your Project


Use the timeline in Figure 1 as a guideline in planning the tasks to be completed for surveying a single medical office, and note the modifications we recommend if you are surveying multiple medical offices or conducting a Web-based survey.

Single Medical Office: Paper Survey

For a single, medium-sized medical office, plan for at least 6 weeks from the beginning of the project to the end of data collection if you are conducting a paper-only survey (Figure 1). Add a few more weeks for data cleaning, analysis, and report preparation.

If your office is small, you can probably shorten the task timeline in Figure 1. If you have a large office or plan to survey multiple medical offices in your practice or system, you might need to make the following adjustments to the timeline:

  • Establish a practice-level or system-level point of contact as well as in each medical office.
  • Allow more time for assembling survey materials (e.g., 2 weeks instead of 1 week).
  • Distribute the first reminder 2 weeks after distributing the first survey.
  • Distribute the second survey 2 weeks after the first reminder.
  • Add a week or more to the data collection period.

If your office plans to conduct a Web-based survey, see the task timeline in Chapter 5 for survey administration via the Web.

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Decide Whether To Use an Outside Vendor

You may want to consider using an outside company or vendor to handle your survey data collection tasks, analyze the data and produce reports of the results, or both. Hiring a vendor may be a good idea for several reasons. Working with an outside vendor may help ensure neutrality and the credibility of your results. In addition, because confidentiality of survey responses is a typical concern, staff may feel their responses will be more confidential when they are returned to an outside vendor. Vendors typically also have experienced staff to perform all the necessary activities and the facilities and equipment to handle the tasks. A professional and experienced firm may be able to provide your medical office with better quality results faster than if you were to do the tasks yourself.

On the other hand, the use of a vendor may add too much expense to your project. If your medical office is part of a multioffice practice or system, you may want to find out if the headquarters staff is capable of and interested in conducting a survey of your medical office and analyzing the data for you. Your medical office practice or system may be interested in administering the survey to multiple offices. Moreover, your medical office's staff may feel more comfortable about the confidentiality of their responses if surveys can be returned to a practice or system headquarters address.

If you are considering hiring an outside vendor, the following guidelines may help you to select the right one:

  • Look for a vendor with expertise in survey research. Local universities may have their own survey research centers or be able to refer you to vendors. You also may inquire within your medical office or medical office system to find out if particular vendors have been used before for survey data collection, analysis, and reporting.
  • Gain an understanding of the vendor's capabilities and strengths so that you can match them to the needs of your project. Determine whether the vendor can handle all the project components. Some vendors will be able to handle your feedback report needs; others will not.
  • Provide potential vendors with a written, clear outline of work requirements. Make tasks, expectations, deadlines, and deliverables clear and specific. Mention all documentation, files, data sets, and other deliverables you expect to receive. Then, ask each vendor to submit a short proposal describing the work they plan to complete, the qualifications of their company and staff, and details regarding methods and costs.
  • Meet with the vendor to make sure you will be able to work well together.
  • Once you have chosen a vendor, institute monitoring, supervision, and problem-resolution procedures.

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Form a Project Team

Whether you conduct the survey in-house or through an outside vendor, you will need to establish a project team responsible for planning and managing the project. Your project team may consist of one or more individuals from your own medical office staff, health system headquarters staff, outsourced vendor staff, or a combination.

The Project Team's Responsibilities

The project team is responsible for a variety of duties—either for conducting them in-house or for monitoring them if you hire a vendor. Highlights of some of these project duties include:

  • Planning and budgeting—Determining the scope of the project based on available resources, planning project tasks, and monitoring the budget.
  • Establishing contact persons—Assigning a point-of-contact in the medical office to support survey administration, maintain open communication throughout the project, and provide assistance.
  • Preparing publicity materials—Creating flyers, posters, and E-mail and Intranet messages to announce and promote the survey in the medical office.
  • Preparing survey materials—Printing surveys, preparing postage-paid return envelopes and labels, and assembling these components for your survey distribution.
  • Distributing and receiving survey materials—Distributing surveys and reminder notices and handling receipt of completed surveys.
  • Tracking survey responses and calculating preliminary response rates—Monitoring survey returns and calculating preliminary response rates; if individual identification numbers are used on the surveys to track nonrespondents, identifying the nonrespondents who should receive followup materials.
  • Examining returned surveys at the end of data collection to identify completes and calculating the official response rate—Identifying complete surveys that will be included in the analysis data file and calculating the official response rate.
  • Handling data entry, analysis, and report preparation—Reviewing survey data for respondent errors and data entry errors in electronic data files, conducting data analysis, and preparing a report of the results.
  • Coordinating with and monitoring an outside vendor (optional)—Outlining the requirements of the project to solicit bids from outside vendors, selecting a vendor, coordinating tasks to be completed in-house versus by the vendor, and monitoring progress to ensure that the necessary work is completed and deadlines are met.

The remainder of this user guide contains the information an in-house project team will need to collect survey data. If you decide to hire a vendor, you may use the information as a resource to facilitate communication with your vendor about the various project tasks and decisions that will be required.

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Page last reviewed October 2014
Internet Citation: Chapter 2. Getting Started. October 2014. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.