E-Survey as a Reliable Alternative for Scientific Research: An Emerging Methodology


This case was based on a PhD project carried out at São Paulo University, Brazil. The central idea was to identify the opinions of several stakeholders in clinical research about a hot topic in bioethics, namely, post-trial access to medication used in studies of pharmaceuticals. In order to include different groups as well as representatives from throughout Brazilian territory, we decided to perform the survey through the Internet. The project started in 2007, when Internet access in Brazil was already widespread but not yet accepted by consensus as a method for academic research. We interviewed four groups: members of institutional ethics committees, researchers, sponsors, and patients. All were approached by e-mail, except patients, who were contacted through researchers. A total of 206 participants answered the questionnaire out of 942 invitees (21.9% response rate). Despite limitations inherent to an Internet survey, this study shows that e-surveys can be a reliable and useful tool, compared with the classical ways of doing academic research (by phone, mail, or face-to-face interviews). This case study provides a narrative of practical aspects of a PhD project, the challenge of using a method not yet completely recognized, and the lessons learned during the course of the research.

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