Background: The Internet is increasingly being used as a data collection medium to access research participants. This paper reports on the experience and value of using web-survey software to conduct an eDelphi study to develop Australian critical care course graduate practice standards.
Methods: The eDelphi technique used involved the iterative process of administering three rounds of surveys to a national expert panel. The survey was developed online using SurveyMonkey. Panel members responded to statements using one rating scale for round one and two scales for rounds two and three. Text boxes for panel comments were provided.
Collecting data and providing feedback: For each round, the SurveyMonkey's email tool was used to distribute an individualized email invitation containing the survey web link. The distribution of panel responses, individual responses and a summary of comments were emailed to panel members. Stacked bar charts representing the distribution of responses were generated using the SurveyMonkey software. Panel response rates remained greater than 85% over all rounds.
Discussion: An online survey provided numerous advantages over traditional survey approaches including high quality data collection, ease and speed of survey administration, direct communication with the panel and rapid collation of feedback allowing data collection to be undertaken in 12 weeks. Only minor challenges were experienced using the technology. Ethical issues, specific to using the Internet to conduct research and external hosting of web-based software, lacked formal guidance.
Conclusions: High response rates and an increased level of data quality were achieved in this study using web-survey software and the process was efficient and user-friendly. However, when considering online survey software, it is important to match the research design with the computer capabilities of participants and recognize that ethical review guidelines and processes have not yet kept pace with online research practices.
Keywords: Health survey; Methodology; Online survey software; Research ethics; eDelphi.
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