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Mayo Clinic Medical Science Blog – an eclectic collection of research- and research education-related stories: feature stories, mini news bites, learning opportunities, profiles and more from Mayo Clinic.

September 2, 2016

Looking Back to Move Forward: Medical Surveys are Worth Your Time

By Sara Tiner

Surveys can be a pain when you’re buying coffee or shoes, or surfing the web. Or maybe you find them fun—what color or literary character are you anyway?

But is the current survey deluge training us to ignore the ones that actually matter? Ask Ann Harris, associate director of Mayo Clinic’s Survey Research Center, and she’ll nod.

“Now everyone has a survey,” she says. “I think we've just over-surveyed people and our challenge coming up is how do we do this?”

Survey Says…

Mayo Clinic sends thousands of surveys a year to patients.

They flow out over the internet of course, but also by phone and (snail) mail. But the surveys don’t flow back in like they used to.

Ann Harris, associate director of Mayo Clinic's Survey Research Center

Ann Harris

“When I first started here,” says Harris, 25 years ago, “our response rates were 90 to 86 percent and they're now closer to 50 to 60 percent depending on what the subject matter is.”

But regardless of the subject matter, health and health care-related surveys do matter. They help answer clinical questions that make a real difference in patients’ lives. For example:

  • After following high-risk patients who chose to have prophylactic mastectomies, investigators concluded that the risk of breast cancer is substantially reduced with this procedure.
  • Gelatin was added to the list of vaccine allergens after a case study led to a survey investigating the prevalence of this reaction.
  • Surveys of patients with congenital heart defects helped researchers find that it was important to intervene early, and plan subsequent operations over the patient’s lifetime, to decrease the total number of operations to increase survival. While a number of papers have been published using this survey data, the most recent publication is on heart transplant after Fontan procedure.
  • Lymphedema (swelling) in the lower body was more common than expected following surgery for endometrial (uterine) cancer. This finding contributed to practice changes aimed at reducing the risk of lymphedema in future patients.

…Your Responses are Important

So when if you get a survey request from Mayo Clinic, think about the people you help with your responses.

And thanks in advance for taking the time to respond.

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