Survey User's Guide

Chapter 3. Determining Your Data Collection Methods

Once you have determined your available resources, project scope, and timeline and have established a project team, you need to decide on your data collection methods. The methods you choose for distributing and returning surveys will affect how your staff view the confidentiality of their responses. Staff views on confidentiality will influence your overall survey response rate. As noted earlier, we recommend using a paper-based data collection method to achieve maximum response rates among all medical office staff. The procedures outlined in Chapters 3 and 4 assume a paper-based approach, but some of the topics in these chapters also apply to Web-based surveys. We provide more specific information about Web-based survey data collection in Chapter 5.

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Decide How Surveys Will Be Distributed and Returned

When deciding how surveys will be distributed and returned, consider any previous experience your medical office has had with employee surveys. Have previous medical office surveys been distributed at work? Were surveys returned to a location within the medical office, to the medical office system headquarters, or to an outside vendor? What were employee survey response rates? If possible, use methods that previously were successful in your medical office, practice or system.

Distributing Surveys

We recommend that a designated point of contact (POC) distribute the surveys directly to providers and staff in the medical office. To promote high participation, you can distribute the surveys at staff meetings where refreshments can be served. However the surveys are distributed, the following guidelines should be followed:

  • Provide explicit instructions for completing the survey.
  • Inform providers and staff that completing the survey is voluntary.
  • Assure them that their responses will be kept confidential. Emphasize that reports of findings will include only summary data and will not identify individuals.
  • Caution them (especially if they are completing the survey during a meeting) not to discuss the survey with other providers and staff while answering the survey.
  • Permit them to complete the survey during work time to emphasize that medical office leaders support the data collection effort.

Returning Surveys

If your budget is limited, completed surveys can be returned to a designated POC in the medical office or to drop boxes in the medical office. These methods of returning surveys, however, may raise staff concerns about the confidentiality of their responses. Rely on your past experience with these methods in your medical office when making decisions about how surveys should be returned.

Your medical office may have limited experience administering employee surveys or you may have confidentiality concerns. In such cases, it is best to have staff mail their completed surveys directly to an outside vendor or to an address outside the medical office via postage-paid return envelopes included with the survey. If you do not use a vendor and are part of a larger medical office practice or health system, consider having the surveys returned to a practice or system headquarters address. This can help reassure staff that no one at their medical office will see the completed surveys. Remember, if surveys are returned through the mail, you will need to account for return postage in your budget.

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Establish a Point of Contact

Single Medical Office

You will want to appoint someone from the office project team to serve as the POC for the survey (e.g., the office manager). A POC can increase the visibility of the survey by showing support for the effort and by answering questions about the survey. We recommend including the POC's name, job title, and contact information (phone number, E-mail address, office number) in the survey cover letter, in any reminder notices that are distributed, and in survey promotion flyers posted in the medical office.

The medical office POC has several duties, including:

  • Promoting the survey.
  • Answering questions about survey items, instructions, or processes.
  • Responding to staff comments and concerns.
  • Helping to coordinate survey distribution and receipt of completed surveys.
  • Communicating with outside vendors, as needed.
  • Communicating with other POCs, as needed.

Multiple Medical Offices

If you administer the survey in multiple medical offices in your practice or health care system, you may want to designate a practice- or system-level POC in addition to a POC in each medical office participating in the survey. The contact information for this POC should also be included in the survey cover letter and in any reminder notices distributed to staff.

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Page last reviewed October 2014
Internet Citation: Chapter 3. Determining Your Data Collection Methods. October 2014. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.