Surveys Play a Critical Role in Improving the Patient Experience

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by Tré LaRosa |

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I used to dislike surveys, polls, and questionnaires. I understood why they existed — customer or patient feedback is important — but I never really saw anything change once I took a survey.

I hadn’t considered that perhaps my feedback was unrealistic or didn’t represent the entire community. It wasn’t until I took a quality of life questionnaire before and after a clinical trial visit a few years ago that I began to understand their importance.

During my visit, I discovered questionnaires can be used as secondary or even primary endpoints for clinical trials. These are the metrics used to determine whether or not a clinical trial is “successful.” (How we define the binary of a “successful” clinical trial is a conversation for another day.)

There are, of course, instances in which a clinical trial is designated a failure based on primary and secondary endpoints, even though some people have benefitted from it. When patients go through the informed consent process before enrolling in a clinical trial, we are told that we should not expect to receive any benefits, as we may receive a placebo. Alternatively, the study medication may simply not be efficacious.

As patient-reported outcomes have become more mainstream over the last 10-20 years, discussions about how patients feel have been amplified. Validated questionnaires are legitimate scientific tools that are used to determine if hidden aspects of medications and treatments may have a bigger impact on how the patient actually feels.

Compared to traditional biometrics, such as lung function or liver enzymes, patient-reported outcomes demonstrate that experience can encompass more than numbers on a chart. In some cases, a patient may prefer a medication that is administered in the hospital once a month instead of a medication they must take three times a day, or vice versa. Quality of life questionnaires find those nuances in the clinical trial and patient experience.

Since I started working at BioNews, the publisher of this site, I have been involved in the creation of surveys to better understand patient-reported outcomes. It has been a delight to use my basic science and research background in combination with my advocacy and patient-centric experience to learn more about what patients really feel.

I believe that surveys can be used to tell the broader story of the patient experience, no matter the disease community. If done effectively, surveys can articulate what needs to be done to improve the quality of life of the entire community. There are limitations to surveys, of course: They are lagging indicators, as people are reacting to what has been done in the past.

My hope, however, is that by understanding and reacting to the patient community’s desires, we can work together to effectively anticipate what needs to be done for the next generation of patients and treatments to guarantee an improved quality of life.

It was an honor to have the opportunity to lead the design of the Cystic Fibrosis News Today survey. Our hope with this first survey is to better understand multiple aspects of the CF patient experience — demographics, symptomatology, treatment plan and side effects, interest in clinical trials, and more.

With this survey, we hope to understand where the CF community is happiest and where it wants to see the most improvement. With future surveys, we hope to learn more about the community to further impact the trajectory of cystic fibrosis treatment and continuously improve quality of life.

Follow along with my other writings at my humbly named site, www.trelarosa.com, or subscribe to my newsletter “sonder, essays” at trelarosa.substack.com.

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Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.

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