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.
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