US Pharm. 2007;32(9):1.


It seems like a day doesn't go by that I am not being asked to fill out one survey or another. The use of surveys has increased exponentially as a result of new, sophisticated polling software and the proliferation of broadband Internet access. Originally, the number of surveys I was asked to fill out didn't bother me. I always felt that by participating in surveys, I was adding to a knowledge base on a general range of topics that would only make our lives more fulfilling in the future. However, with so many surveys and polling devices being utilized today, I now question how the results are actually being used. Are we really getting useful information from the surveys, or as a nation are companies duping us into believing what they want us to by manipulating the results?

Over the years, I have been involved in creating many surveys for pharmacists on a variety of topics. Many of the questions deal with whether the breadth of our editorial product is what pharmacists really want to read. We take the results of these readership surveys very seriously. And while pharmacists are champion survey takers, analyzing the answers can be tricky. For example, do I change the magazine's editorial content based on a few suggestive survey answers? At what point is the number of survey responses enough to project our total readership's desires? The bottom line is that surveys are really only a snapshot in time, so it is important to conduct several surveys to get a more accurate picture of the actual results.

With a presidential election not too far away, the American public will be bombarded over the course of the next year with surveys and polling results. Water cooler talk will be generated based on these results, whether they are accurate or not. Unfortunately, many Americans will cast their votes based solely on what they take away from these unscientific, and oftentimes undocumented, survey results. And while voting for a president is very serious business, it pales in comparison to analyzing results from health care surveys where patients' lives are at stake.

That's why I sometimes cringe when I read the results of surveys in medical news reports. While some surveys are top notch in their design and distribution, others I have seen on the Internet often have no methodology attached to them at all, and yet the results are published as though they are fact. Because pharmacists are trained to see things analytically, many of us are, thankfully, not easily swayed by superficial survey results. We want to see data from solid clinical trials based on strong, evidenced-based medicine and science. There is no room in health care for survey results that are designed specifically to benefit the company sponsoring them. How many times have we heard seemingly astounding results from surveys, only for them to be refuted by serious research on the very same topic some months or years later?

At U.S. Pharmacist, our editors double check references to the results we publish to make sure they are accurate and in the best interest of our readers. The take-away message is: don't believe everything you see or read. When pharmacists counsel their patients, it is important that they dig a little deeper before advising patients on their therapy, because there is no substitute for the truth.

Harold E. Cohen, R. Ph.


To comment on this article, contact