State aims to boost results from online health survey

By Kim Walter

The Virginia Department of Health this month is introducing a Web-based behavioral risk factor surveillance survey that’s designed to encourage greater participation, particularly among underrepresented groups.

The survey is used to gather vital health information and monitor critical health indicators. Traditionally, the survey is conducted by telephone, but now households that do not respond to the phone survey will receive a postcard in the mail with instructions for completing the survey online.

State Health Commissioner Cynthia C. Romero said people are busier than ever, and it was quickly becoming apparent that the telephone survey wasn’t convenient for everyone.

“Because the survey is vitally important for improving health at the community level, we want to make it easier for Virginians to participate and help make a difference,” she stated in a release from the state.

The survey is the primary source of state-specific surveillance information related to health risk behaviors, chronic health conditions and use of preventive services among Virginians.

The state health department is responsible for collecting survey information to provide to local health districts. Results of the survey support health programs and policies at the community level with the overall goal of reducing the burden of chronic diseases and increasing years of healthy life.

Dr. Charles Devine, director of the Lord Fairfax Health District, said that in the first six months of 2013, more than half of the phone surveys were completed by those aged 55 or older, and 30 percent of phone participants were aged 65 of older.

“Basically, the telephone survey is over sampling adults, and under sampling younger folks,” he said. “In order to make the results as accurate as possible, we’ve got to be able to hear from a variety of people.”

According to a release from the state health department, more than 2.8 million adults with a key chronic illness reside in Virginia.

Key chronic diseases include arthritis, asthma, heart attack, stroke, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary heart disease/angina and diabetes. Although the risk of developing a chronic disease varies with age and gender, many common chronic diseases can be prevented or managed through behavioral changes, such as adopting a healthy diet.

Devine said although the survey is conducted by the state, the information can help local health districts. If more people from an area participate, their answers could lead to health-related interventions or programs.

However, if a health district doesn’t have data to back up a project, then it would be increasingly difficult to find funding to combat that problem. It would also make it harder for the locality to monitor the effectiveness of resources and programs that are currently in place.

“Having up to date data helps us work more efficiently to accomplish things,” Devine said. “And really, the survey’s results can help fund public health in general.”

The state health department encourages those contacted about the study to set aside some time to complete the survey at their earliest convenience. It takes about 20 minutes to complete the Web-based survey.

The state has conducted the survey on a monthly basis by phone since 1989. Similar surveys take place in all 50 states and the U.S. territories.

Copies of the questionnaire and maps can be viewed at www.vdh.virginia.gov/OFHS/brfss or by contacting the survey coordinator, Danielle Henderson, by phone at (804) 864-7649 or email at Danielle.Henderson@vdh.virginia.gov.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com