A survey is essentially a form of structured enquiry, which involves collecting information on each member of a sample or population, with a view to drawing conclusions.

The information from a survey may be collected through:

Surveys can be a helpful method for gathering information which is not available from other sources, for example perceived need for  services, satisfaction with services or information about the needs of people with specific health problems. This can be particularly important if you want to obtain more detailed information about the needs of a particular group or examine patients’ perceptions of needs and priorities

To get the best results, it is important to understand where and when to use this method of data collection and to take some time to design and pilot them.  You will also need to think carefully about the size and selection of your ‘sample’ to ensure your results are meaningful.

Surveys need not be too time consuming or expensive to conduct, but if you are going to use some form of survey in your HNA it is worth taking a systematic approach such as that described below:

Aims and objectives: You need to be clear about the aims and objectives of the survey at the outset.  This will influence the type of survey you decide to use and the questions you ask.

Preparation: In order to plan your survey you may need to undertake some preparatory work such as considering the sample you are going to use and drawing up the questions you want to ask.

This preparatory work could take different forms. It may be necessary to do some background reading about the issues you want to look at, or you may need to analyse some practice data to establish the number of patients in a particular  patient group.

You might also want to talk to a small number of patients from that patient group to help you understand the issues your survey needs to explore. If, for example, the aim of your survey is to examine the health needs of carers and then identify ways in which they could be better supported, you may find it difficult to construct your questionnaire without first talking to a few carers so that you understand the issues which concern them.

You may also find it helpful to assess the number of patients registered with you practice who are likely to be carers. This stage is also a good time to think about the time and resources you have available for the survey and to reconsider your objectives if necessary.

Decide on your sample size: If the number of patients likely to be involved in your survey is small, you may decide to survey them all. However, in many surveys the ‘survey population’ is too large for this to be feasible and so a sample has to be used.

For the purposes of this guide, we will focus upon two basic approaches to sampling which it is helpful to be aware of:

Random sampling
e.g. Your practice decides that it wishes to examine the health needs of older people registered with the practice and so your survey population could be all the practice’s patients who are over 75. If you want to obtain the views of a representative sample of the older patients in the practice, a simple random sample could be used, by for example surveying every fifth patient over 75 on the practice list.

Judgement sampling
e.g. If you want to examine a particular aspect of health need within the over 75 group of patients, for example the needs of those living alone or caring for a relative, you may wish to select the patients to be surveyed to ensure that these groups are represented. This is referred to as a judgement sample.

If you decide to undertake a sample survey, and don’t have in-house expertise it may be advisable to seek external advice, as a poor sample could undermine your assessment results.

Collect your data: The method of data collection you choose will be determined by many factors, in particular the type of information you want to obtain, the size of your sample, and the time and resources you have available. It is useful to remember that interviews and groups tend to yield richer, more detailed information, but surveys based on self completed questionnaires are often cheaper and quicker to conduct and are more practical if you intend to use a larger sample.

Whichever method you choose, you should pilot your survey before you use it, to ensure that the questions you are asking are clear and yield the type of information you are wanting.

Before you begin your data collection, it is also essential to consider who is going to undertake the data collection, the time they will need to commit and whether they require any training. This can be particularly important if you intend to use interviews or focus groups.

Manage and analyse your data: Again it is important to think about how you are going to manage and analyse your data when you are planning the survey. Much will depend on it’s the size and complexity and the type of information it generates. For example if you are using self completed questionnaires, is the data going to be analysed on a computer, if it is what software do you intend to use and who will input the data? If you are using interviews or groups, how will you record what is said, and how can you analyse it to ensure that the results are not biased or misinterpreted?

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