The role of Online Surveys in Healthcare

As healthcare research gains more prominence in the cause of delivering enhanced levels of patient treatment online surveys may just about play a pivotal role both in gathering relevant data and ensuring its protection

Oct 1, 2018 – AccuDoc solutions, a healthcare billing services provider, reported to Atrium Health that it had experienced a major data breach in which healthcare information of 2.65 million patients of Atrium Health were compromised.

Atrium Health is a network of 44 hospitals spread across Georgia, North and South California

Healthcare data breach incidents such as the above is just one among the 100+ data breaches disclosed to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services and the trend is in no mood to slow down anytime soon. As per a report by Protenus, data breach numbers continue to move upwards – "so far there have been 572 data breach incidents reported to U.S Department of Health and Human Services in 2019" - Protenus

These incidents cause an increasingly alarming situation not just in the medical community but in the larger society per se. Protection of healthcare data needs to be amongst the top priorities for all entities that conduct healthcare research and or provide treatments.

There is nothing as important as healthcare research when it comes to understanding the various aspects of diseases including - how they spread, factors that contribute to the trends and conditions and practices that influence human health. Healthcare research also provides insights on the means and methods to control and or eradicate diseases in humans. And, this is exactly the reason why the information and data gathered through healthcare research is of great importance and its protection and safety even more.

The need for Healthcare data protection

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA was enacted in 1996 in the US. It sets the standards for collecting, storing and protecting of patient healthcare information. All healthcare and related entities in the US must comply with HIPAA and must have a physical, process and network, based security measures in place.

Not just healthcare entities but even their business associates (companies that support healthcare entities in data collection, payment and operations) must also be HIPAA compliant.

Patient data is perhaps the most crucial of all kinds of data and there is no two ways about. Patient data deserves the right to be secure and very private because –

  • Leaking of patient data has a major psychological impact on patients in question that can lead to deteriorating impact of their health
  • Leaked patient data can be used in dangerous ways by unscrupulous elements whose consequences can be dreadful
  • Patient data also contains sensitive information such as contact details and financial information that can be misused in a massive way leading to adverse effects

So, the stress on having strong security and safety measures to protect patient data needs to be more emphatic and rules, stringent.

Sensitive Health Issues

While we agree on the importance of patient data and the perennial need for its protection, there is another angle to it.

Is all patient data equally sensitive or are there priority areas?

All type of patient data is indeed sensitive but there are certain kinds that require greater attention. Why? Because far more sensitive from the point of health and humanity and beg for greater degree of protection and privacy. Data breach of such sensitive patient information can be severely damaging and in certain cases, inhuman even.

What kind of issues are these?

Mental Health Issues

To begin with, it is very difficult for patients having mental health issues to go about their regular life. Imagine the situation if such sensitive information on their health status gets leaked

Sexual Issues

It can be a major point of embarrassment if details on sexual performance issues or sexual related diseases are leaked. It can have a direct impact on the mental status of the patient in question and adversely affect their confidence levels and morality

Sexuality Issues

The world is changing and opening up to things but, it hasn’t completely yet. Sexual orientation is still a big topic of discussion and in certain communities / social establishments one’s sexuality can determine the way one is treated and dealt with. It is of utmost importance that data relating to the sexual orientation of patient be protected

Having said that, healthcare research is of paramount importance and it must go on. Healthcare entities are putting measures in place to ensure there is enough protection for patient data even as they employ different methods to gather the information. Online surveys is one great and viable method.

How Online surveys can play a role?

It is very important to gather patient information, no doubt about that. Patient healthcare research and information is essential for two particular reasons –

Healthcare centres collect data as part of the treatment process, this is a must for diagnosis and treatment

Healthcare research centres gather information from patients and test subjects (of course after individual consent) and the collected data can play a crucial role in medicinal research and clinical trials - both of which play a key role in the formulation of relevant drugs and subsequent treatment methods

Online surveys play a key role in collection of relevant patient information. They enable healthcare entities, research centres, medical practioners and even government entities to have access to some very essential and insightful data on prevailing health conditions in different communities and locations.

Now, what are the benefits of online surveys?

Quick and effective

Online surveys are perhaps the fastest means to capture patient details. Thoughtfully framed survey questionnaires can help gather the most relevant and useful patient data that can be further used to study, identify and analyses diseases so the subsequent treatment is more enhanced.

Low-cost method

Online surveys are arguably the most cost-effective form of collecting patient data and they also enable healthcare entities use and re-use the questionnaires across different demographics and across geographies. This allows healthcare entities to penetrate a much larger pool of patients and allows them to access a larger volume of patient data all of which can be used to strengthen efforts towards an effective treatment process.

Easy and improvised

Online surveys are relatively easy to frame and send to target respondents. Another advantage is that by using some intelligent tools survey questionnaires can be improvised based on respondents’ feedback and requirements. What this does it that it helps researchers to bring out quality and customized questionnaires and quickly at that.

What about security and privacy of patient data?


Good online survey companies make it part of their culture to lay down and implement the best of security and privacy measures, and this is how they do it -

Create a secure survey software

First and foremost, survey companies need to create a survey software or platform that is robust and secure. For this to happen, survey companies need to have the mindset; to believe in and respect the privacy of healthcare data that is so crucial. Using the latest tools and technologies, companies can build a secure online survey platform and administer desired questionnaires.

Establish secure environment

Creating a secure survey platform is just the beginning. Patient data, once obtained needs to be stored in a safe place. HIPAA makes it imperative for all healthcare entities to take responsibility and accountability for patient data privacy and security. The IT environment, from physical machines to the software tools must be heavily encrypted to ensure that only the right people have access to the data, and under the right conditions. Just about anybody in the organization cannot have access to data and encryption is all about that.

Powerful analytics

Another great advantage of using a robust online survey software is its ability to process and analyse patient data to provide easy-to-understand reports. It also helps pull out interesting trends and insights which other would be difficult to obtain. A powerful online survey software will allow the right stakeholders to have complete control and access to the data and enable them to take intelligence-based decisions to enhance the process of treatment and overall healthcare.

At the end of day, the standout objective of any Healthcare survey is to have enough information and insights so that healthcare entities provide better healthcare and help create a healthier lifestyle for patients. The importance of secure, private and anonymous online surveys cannot be more emphasized in this context. As technology opens more doors, survey companies will find more and innovative ways to build desired survey platforms while architecting a strong, safe and secure IT environment to ensure absolute protection of patient healthcare data.