Self-administered waiting room questionnaires are popular tools for gathering health information from patients, but these data cannot be used for research purposes without confirming adequate sampling of the practice population and assessing the completeness and accuracy of patients' responses. Long-term data collection also requires avoiding an imposition on clinic operations. We developed a protocol to test these questions in a 9-week pilot study of 884 survey-eligible patients visiting a family practice clinic. We found an adequate proportion of eligible patients were approached (74%) and participated (89%), they provided relatively complete (82-98%) and accurate responses, and the impact on office operations was minimal (<2 min of staff time per participant). Some demographic differences in participation and survey item completion were identified. A systematic process for testing survey performance allowed us to not only document these findings, but also to rapidly identify problems and introduce solutions while the survey was in progress.