Web-based preference studies: Why and why not?


Covid19 has resulted in the expansion of online, web-based data collection methods. These have several important advantages over face-to-face data collection. But there are several limitations to consider. A recent PREFER publication offers a comprehensive overview of both challenges and opportunities. And suggest introducing comparisons, as well as adapting to the needs of participants. 

Among the benefits of online survey administration are the possibilities to reach a wider geographical area in less time, to include advanced educational tools, to allow participants to complete the survey in their own time, to save time and reduce researchers’ burden in conducting the study.

“Even though they reach more people in less time, there are some groups that online surveys never reach. Because these people don’t have access to the internet, or because they are unused to it. It is important to consider digital literacy, to help respondents answer surveys without having to ask family members or carers for help. We can presume that patients who are assisted during the completion of the choice tasks may be influenced by the helper’s own interpretation of the survey questions, raising the concerns that patients’ preferences expressed in the survey might not entirely reflect their own perspective.” says Serena Oliveri, author of a recent Patient Preference and Adherence publication.

In a face-to-face situation, there is the opportunity to provide immediate feedback and offer clarification. Digital surveys do not. Offering assistance over the phone or through a video-call might be an option for some, but for elderly participants who are not digital natives this might be a challenge. In addition, the authors believe that remote survey completion might lead to lower levels of engagement with a survey in general, something that will not benefit results.

The authors suggest future patient preference studies should compare remote and face-to-face methods of data collection in medical settings. And develop strategies to increase the motivation to participate. Experiences from PREFER’s lung cancer case study suggests web-based surveys are important tools to explore patient preferences, during and beyond the current pandemic.

Oliveri S, Lanzoni L, Petrocchi S, Janssens R, Schoefs E, Huys I, Smith MY, Smith IP, Veldwijk J, de Wit GA, Pravettoni G. Opportunities and Challenges of Web-Based and Remotely Administered Surveys for Patient Preference Studies in a Vulnerable Population. Patient Preference and Adherence. 2021;15:2509-2517 

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By Anna Holm

Last modified: 2021-11-10