Online questionnaires: improving timeliness of outbreak investigations

Background: In April 2010 the South Australian Department of Health investigated a gastro-intestinal outbreak at a church camp (n=89). As email addresses were available for all attendees an online questionnaire was adopted for the first time in South Australia. Online questionnaires are an innovative technology that enables fast data analysis and rapid public health response to suspected outbreaks. This new technique for outbreak investigation was compared to a recent departmental paper-based cohort investigation (n=328).

Methods: An online version of our standard cohort questionnaire was created and camp attendees were invited to participate by email. After one week a reminder email was sent to non-responders, at two weeks a reminder phone call was made. Interview submission times were recorded as a function of the website which was then compared to the paper-based investigation records.

Results: This online method resulted in a high response rate (83%) compared to the paper-based investigation (75%), and was also more rapid. Within 24 hours of online questionnaire launch 42% of participants had responded, compared to none for the paper-based. By day five 65% of camp attendees had completed the online questionnaire compared to 16% of paper-based. At day 10, 77% compared to 50%. Online questionnaire data was available immediately with no data entry required. Conclusions: Using an online questionnaire for data collection resulted in a rapid and high response rate compared to the departments traditional investigation techniques. This method also resulted in a reduction in administrative time, costs and data-entry error. Timely response strengthens the results of outbreak investigation through reduced recall bias. This leads to collection of higher quality information about the disease and in turn minimises community harm through timely public health action. For more information, email the presenter at:

Author (s): 

Amy E. Parry, K.Byron-Gray, D.Johnson, J.Raupach, M.McPherson

Presenter (s): 
Ms. Amy Parry
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