Research Wonder: Heart Rate, Body Movement as Survey Quality Paradata?

by | Sep 28, 2015 | Opinion / Editorial, Research Wonder, Survey Methodology

What’s a Research Wonder?  Read this to find out…

It seems inevitable – when many of us are wearing devices like smart watches and step counters that can also monitor our heart rate and even track movement while we sleep, when will that technology cross over into survey research?

It seems an obvious fit.  Imagine a survey of sexual assault victims where it is known that questions about certain topics could be disturbing to those who were victimized.  What if we monitored heart rate during the survey, and if we detected a spike in heart rate, we checked in with the respondent?  Is there a reason for the increased cardio-pump?  Are they now running while taking the survey?  Could it be that the questions are causing stress?  If that is the case, we could switch topics, or offer to “come back later.”


Could the capture of movement and/or heart rate during a survey provide additional data that could play a role in logic/branching of the questionnaire or in the interpretation of the data?


Could we use heart rate increases during sensitive questions when the respondent skips a question as a proxy for a substantive response?


Would respondents agree to be monitored in such a way to begin with during a self-administered survey that they may be doing in the privacy of their own home?

Currently, the FDA only regulates true direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests, which have no health care provider involved either before or after testing. Consumer-initiated, physician-mediated genetic tests are considered lab developed tests (LDTs), which currently do not require FDA oversight. 


Our Study Design

Our study was designed to simulate the experience of an everyday person who is considering doing a health-related genetic test. For this reason, we only reviewed website contents presented to a consumer before ordering a test. By limiting our data collection to pre-test content, instead of digging around or contacting the companies to fill in missing data points, gaps in public-facing information that consumers use to make ‘informed’ decisions were revealed.  

Also, while a genetic counselor supervised the project, a research assistant (RA) conducted most of the website investigations. The RA was familiar enough with genetics and genetic testing to understand and identify the information presented on the websites, but has not had the clinical exposure that might create bias from knowing how specific tests work “behind-the-scenes”. 


To Sum Up

We set out to understand the landscape of health-related consumer genomics testing from the public perspective. By limiting our research (by design) to public-facing pre-test website content, we could not complete our data collection as set out in the protocol. However, this uncovered an important observation: consumer genomics websites are highly variable in content, readability and ease of use. 

This begs the question, if we can’t find basic test information on a consumer genomics website, how does a consumer have enough information to make an informed choice about testing? 

Stay tuned for Part 2 in this series, where we will dig into our study findings and reveal our most interesting observations.  



As experts in FDA user comprehension studies for consumer genomics companies seeking 510(k) clearance, we are interested in how everyday people access and understand health content that is meant for them. If you need help optimizing your consumer-directed health communications, we’ve got the in-house expertise and experience to meet your needs. Let’s chat

About the Author

Scott D. Crawford

Scott D. Crawford is the Founder and Chief Vision Officer at SoundRocket. He is also often found practicing being a husband, father, entrepreneur, forever-learner, survey methodologist, science writer & advocate, and podcast lover. While he doesn’t believe in reincarnation, he’s certain he was a Great Dane (of the canine type) in a previous life.