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Should Complex Healthcare Surveys Be Programmed For Mobile?

medical-respondent-playing-with-mobile-survey.jpgI remember a time, not too long ago, when cell phones were only useful for a few things: short phone calls (no unlimited voice plans), text messages (no pictures), and the occasional game of snake on the small monochromatic screen. Fast forward a decade, and our phone today has more in common with our laptop than it does with our phone from 2005. The incredible processing power, beautiful high-resolution displays, and a fast internet connection have all been critical to the proliferation of smartphones over the past decade, but no feature was more instrumental in mass adoption than the touch interface.

Touch did for cell phones what the mouse did for desktops - it allowed people to naturally interface with their phones and sparked a revolution in how we experience and use technology. It is obvious we tapped into something that is primal if a 2-year-old can unlock an iPhone and load a YouTube video before learning how to talk. Today, people use their smartphones to make a dinner reservation, order transportation, connect with friends, and distract kids at dinner with their favorite YouTube cartoon...and some use their smartphones to share their experiences, environment, and knowledge by participating in market research surveys.

For most, “mobile” is a catch-22 offering

Complex (healthcare) mobile surveys?

As mobile surveys became more common, they were always thought to be appropriate for a particular type of survey - something that is short and simple. The more complex and longer surveys became (which is very typical in healthcare market research) the more incompatible they were with a smartphone screen. After all, how can you properly display a grid on a mobile device in a way that doesn’t break the question into a linear stream of subquestions? In order to adapt these complex scenarios to the mobile platform, the user experience needed to be redesigned from the ground up. Since most data collection companies buy off-the-shelf survey software from a handful of big survey software providers, they are limited to the features that those software providers deem important. While most software providers offer mobile capabilities for less complex surveys, there is rarely a great solution for a survey that is longer and more complex. This explains why many healthcare-focused data collection companies say that they can do “mobile” but seldom program for it unless the client requests it. For most, “mobile” is a catch-22 offering - it helps a company look more technologically capable at the expense of disappointing clients when challenged to do something that is more complex.

Three metrics on what Ricca Group found polling medical physicians

Why should anybody care?

All of this begs the question - so why is it important to design all surveys, even the more complex ones, for mobile? To properly answer this question, we decided to analyze our survey traffic for last year and this year-to-date, and we also conducted our own survey of 200 physicians. Turns out that physicians, like the rest of us, love their smartphones. 95% of physicians in our survey indicated that they own a smartphone and as many as 80% mentioned that they have tried using it to participate in a healthcare survey. Our survey traffic shows that in 2015, over 20% of all survey attempts originated from smartphones and approximately 10% originated from tablets. Not only is this a number that is hard to ignore, it's growing, and the growth itself is accelerating. Just from 2014 to 2015 year-to-date, the percentage of mobile users across our surveys grew from 11.4% to 21.6% - that’s just under 90% growth in just one year; and given current mobile usage trends this rate of growth is projected to continue. In our recent survey of 200 physicians, we asked respondents who have used their smartphone to participate in a survey that was not designed for mobile about their experience: 11% decided not to participate at all while 21% decided to continue despite the tough-to-read format. While losing 11% of mobile respondents may hurt the chances of completing a study with a hard-to-reach target audience, the scarier statistic for clients may be getting data from 21% of respondents who cannot clearly see or properly respond to the survey questions because the questions/responses may be cut off, too small to read, or hard to select.

Making things work on mobile means rethinking and re-designing the entire survey experience

Designing for mobile…every survey, every time.

One of the most critical (and best) decisions we made as a company 9 years ago was to abandon our off-the-shelf survey software solution and create our own. This was certainly not an easy road, or the cheapest, but it allowed us the freedom to develop the technology we wanted, when we wanted. After seeing the increasing rate of mobile attempts in our surveys, we decided to re-focus our software on designing all of our surveys (even the complex ones) for mobile. The idea, unlike the technology behind it, is relatively simple - make any survey accessible on any device without any special instructions or requests from clients. Surveys are programmed once, and the heavy lifting of adapting the survey to each screen is done automatically on the back-end. For us, making a survey mobile-enabled did not mean simply “optimizing” it. While shrinking or wrapping the question can make it readable on a mobile device, it does nothing to take maximum advantage of the profoundly unique experience a mobile touch interface offers the user. Making things work on mobile means rethinking and re-designing the entire survey experience for each question type, making sure that it is not only easy to understand for the respondent, but also meets all of the requirements clients have come to expect of desktop surveys. We’re still not all the way through the transition as more and more scenarios require us to continue to design new experiences, but we feel like we’re on the right track and encourage others to follow us on this path.

What should you consider when awarding your medical market research project?

  1. Will your survey be programmed for mobile by default or is this something you need to request? If not programmed for mobile, you are likely losing over 10% of mobile respondents and getting worse data from the 21% who choose to participate in a survey that is not designed for mobile.
  2. If your survey is mobile friendly, was the survey experience truly designed for mobile or simply optimized? Something that is “optimized” does not always yield a good experience. If the text wraps correctly but the choices are still too small to choose easily, will the respondent stay engaged enough to complete while providing good quality data?

Paul Golota

Paul is a graduate of Drexel University with a degree in Business & Finance. He co-founded Ricca Group in 2002 and currently serves as its Executive Vice President. He loves learning about anything science/tech/healthcare, traveling, and eating amazing food.

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