ESOMAR, 6 doctors talking to eachother



SERMO answers ESOMAR’s 28 questions for researchers to determine what they can expect from suppliers on the quality and unbiased options of their panels. With confidence and assurance we share the process of our panel recruitment, panel and sample management, as well as policies and compliances to show the data quality and validation needed to provide top notch service.



What experience does your company have in providing online samples for market research?

SERMO currently offers the most extensive online healthcare panel with more than 1.8 million members with access to 80 of the largest healthcare markets worldwide.

  • In 2015 alone, SERMO completed nearly 3,000 research projects with over half-a-million completed surveys. By our estimation, this means we have done more surveys and more projects than any other company (data collection, Market Research agency or pharma client) worldwide.
  • We have specialized in online data collection for the past 17 years.
  • Our accumulated experience is second to none, and our drive to deliver the highest quality results to our clients is rewarded by their repeat business. This, in turn, drives our business growth and our thirst to innovate in our space, which is evident in our services and processes.

Please describe and explain the type(s) of online sample sources from which you get respondents. Are these databases? Actively managed research panels? Direct marketing lists? Social networks? Web intercept (also known as river) samples?

  • SERMO actively manages our own research panel and also works with a network of trusted partners.
  • Each of these groups are of validated Healthcare professionals and are opted-in to receive invitations to surveys via email.
  • They are all actively managed and profiled by SERMO to the same exacting standards, including quality of response, engagement and incentives.

If you provide samples from more than one source: How are the different sample sources blended together to ensure validity? How can this be replicated over time to provide reliability? How do you deal with the possibility of duplication of respondents across sources?

  • SERMO combines our own panel asset and those of our partners with great care to ensure maximum coverage of the markets in which we operate.
  • New partners are selected to complement our existing assets. We deploy a variety of advanced technologies to de-duplicate both within and across sources. By consistently profiling all sources in the same ways, we can ensure that appropriately stratified samples can be replicated over time.
  • We also deploy a number of technologies and processes at the survey level, including application of an independent digital fingerprinting solution (RelevantID™ from Imperium) to provide an additional level of reassurance to our clients, as well as contributing to our overall de-duplication and quality management framework.

Are your sample source(s) used solely for market research? If not, what other purposes are they used for?

  • No
  • SERMO is a global social network and as of 2016 is active in 30 countries with over half a million members worldwide. Through the SERMO community platform, physicians are provided with a number of other opportunities to participate in discussions, polls, games and educational programs. We are extremely careful to maintain appropriate separation between these various activities and fully respect members’ choices as to which activities they wish to participate in.
  • Our market research activities are conducted within the codes of conduct established by leading industry bodies including, BHBIA (UK), CASRO, EphMRA, ESOMAR, MRS (UK), PBIRG (US) and PMRG (US).
  • All activities are conducted within applicable legal and ethical frameworks including those covering data protection, privacy and information security. These include, but are not limited to, European data protection requirements (registered in the UK and Lithuania) and Japanese P-Mark. SERMO has also executed model clauses which allow inter-company data transfers between our EU offices and other company offices in US, Mexico and China. Where necessary these agreements also permit SERMO to transfer European data to third parties outside of the European Union if the relevant third parties have signed agreements incorporating the protections stated in the model clauses.

How do you source groups that may be hard to reach on the internet?

  • Almost all our groups are what would traditionally be identified as hard to reach.
  • This is one of the reasons that we have adopted a multi-pronged approach to recruitmenthistorically mostly by telephone, online where this can be done (to our quality standards and cost effectively) and by partnering with people that already have established relationships if this is more applicable.
  • Our strategy is to maximize coverage, participation and quality.

If on a particular project, you need to supplement your sample(s) with sample(s) from other providers, how do you select those partners? Is it your policy to notify a client in advance when using a third party provider?

  • This is something that we try to avoid whenever possible and our extensive resources allow us to do so more often than most. However, it can happen that we need to supplement our capabilities with those of external suppliers.
  • We always notify clients when this is going to be required. If possible at the time the project is bid, but otherwise prior to the “top-up” supplier being engaged. If clients request, we will happily discuss potential “top-up” suppliers and agree those engaged with them.
  • We actively manage all such suppliers, assessing the quality of the data provided by their respondents, managing to minimize the risk of duplicate respondents and ensuring that we have traceability of respondents and survey links used.

What steps do you take to achieve a representative sample of the target population?

  • Online access panels by their nature cannot technically produce a representative sample. Indeed within the healthcare space a universe list does not always exist and so, in these cases, it is not possible to produce the probability sample required to be representative.
  • However, by careful selection of quotas, a stratified sample can be created that closely approximates a representative sample. This is something we work with our clients to produce and deliver.
  • The larger an access panel in any given country and healthcare specialty is relative to the universe, even if the size of the latter is not precisely known and no list is available, the closer to representative it becomes.
  • In the extreme case where a panel has most or the entire specialty included within the panel, then a random sample of the panel is representative. Further, it is arguable that even if all (or most of) the members of a given population have been invited to participate in a given online panel then it too would become representative - after all, everyone had the same opportunity to participate, which is the definition of a probability and/or representative sample.

Do you employ a survey router?

  • SERMO does not employ a survey router at this time. We do not believe that for research among healthcare professionals the issues raised below and by the workgroups working within the ARF’s Foundations for Quality initiative have been satisfactorily answered. Our view is that the problems discussed in the consumer context are present in more extreme ways, and with more severe consequences in the healthcare context and so it would be unwise to deploy survey router technology.

If you use a router: Please describe the allocation process within your router.
How do you decide which surveys might be considered for a respondent? On what priority basis are respondents allocated to surveys?

  • SERMO does not use a survey router so this issue does not arise. All our samples are drawn independently of one another to avoid such potential issues.

If you use a router: What measures do you take to guard against, or mitigate, any bias arising from employing a router? How do you measure and report any bias?

  • SERMO does not use a survey router so this issue does not arise.

If you use a router: Who in your company sets the parameters of the router? Is it a dedicated team or individual project managers?

  • SERMO does not use a survey router so this issue does not arise.

What profiling data is held on respondents? How is it done? How does this differ across sample sources? How is it kept up-to-date? If no relevant profiling data is held, how are low incidence projects dealt with?

  • Basic profile data is collected at the time of registration and this includes country, language, speciality and workplace name. As soon as possible thereafter we ask members to complete a detailed profiling survey that covers additional details on specialty and applicable subspecialties, years of practice, workplace setting, conditions treated, patient load per condition and procedures conducted.
  • As part of our on-going efforts to maintain survey data quality, increase project turnaround speed and improve the member experience, SERMO has introduced a system to refine targeting of surveys to those most likely to meet the qualification criteria. Along with data from the profiling survey, it combines general qualification criteria from historic client projects and individual member outcomes. At no time do we use the responses to individual screener questions, but for example we would use the fact that a member qualified for a previous survey requiring that they treat a given condition to target them for subsequent surveys on the same condition. A manual implementation of this type of activity is not uncommon in our industry; SERMO’s innovation is combining it with deep member profile data in a fully automated process. We feel that our industry needs to become increasingly sophisticated in areas like this if we are going to sustain the participation of healthcare professionals in market research, maintaining breadth of response and data integrity.
  • All SERMO panels and those respondent groups we manage on behalf of our panel partners are subject to the same profiling and targeting techniques.

Please describe your survey invitation process. What is the proposition that people are offered to take part in individual surveys? What information about the project itself is given in the process? Apart from direct invitations to specific surveys (or to a router), what other means of invitation to surveys are respondents exposed to? You should note that not all invitations to participate take the form of emails.

  • All our panel member invites are personalized and will contain:
    • the project name and reference
    • a brief description of the project (this is a balance between providing too much information,potentially introducing bias, and too little information for the member to decide if they would like to participate)
    • the length of interview
    • incentive due for completion
    • unique survey link and a set of unique login details
    • deadline prior to which the survey needs to be completed
    • contact information and unsubscribe instructions
    • privacy and voluntary participation statement
  • To avoid overburdening our members with emails, we collate available survey opportunities into a Daily Email that provides the above information for each survey a member has been invited to and is still available to them. This allows us to include reminders and new opportunities, maximizing overall survey responsiveness whilst respecting our member’s busy professional and personal lives.

Please describe the incentives that respondents are offered for taking part in your surveys. How does this differ by sample source, by interview length, by respondent characteristics?

  • Our approach to honoraria disbursement integrates the latest research in respondent motivation with a sophisticated suite of in-house technologies, all designed to deliver superior data quality and drive project efficiency. While honoraria are an important part of respondent motivation, research conducted by ourselves and others indicates clearly that money is only one of a number of motivating factors for respondents, and other powerful drivers of participation include a desire to learn something new and a willingness to contribute to the improvement of healthcare delivery. Research has also identified a number of de-motivating factors, among them cumbersome survey design, screen-outs and survey length.
  • Among the many reasons clients choose SERMO is our approach to panel recruitment, which seeks to reach the highest possible proportion of a given universe in order to ensure the greatest representation. Our respondent motivation program builds on this achievement to maximize engaged participation in a given survey. Furthermore, by lessening the reliance on financial inducements, we aim to improve the attention given to a survey, leading to better responses and higher data quality.
  • Our multi-tiered approach includes:
    • Working with clients to streamline survey design, while understanding that research objectives are paramount
    • Significantly minimizing screen-outs through respondent profiling and targeting
    • Deploying a custom-built intelligent technology system which pinpoints honoraria on a respondent-by-respondent and survey-by-survey basis to balance financial motivation for participation with other motivators
    • Driving participation through the work of our panel care and community engagement teams to customize messaging which speaks to the underlying motivation of participants
    • Panel members are rewarded for the completion of our surveys and these details are clearly explained in the initial invitation sent. Incentive values depend on various factors, e.g. the length and complexity of a study, the respondent type (speciality) and their previous response history. The choice of reward types available to panel members is dependent on their country of residence and what is permissible in each country and may include the following:
      • Check
      • PayPal
      • Prepaid Debit Card
      • Reward Points
      • Charity Donation
      • Gift Voucher

What information about a project do you need in order to give an accurate estimate of feasibility using your own resources?

Context: The “size” of any panel or source may not necessarily be an accurate indicator that your specific project can be completed or completed within your desired time frame.

  • Feasibility is assessed for each country and specialty
  • Important factors include incidence rate, survey length, field period and any client imposed restrictions.
  • If incidence rate is not available then we need details of the exact qualification criteria so we can use our own resources to estimate it. We can use our extensive profiling information (discussed in Question 12) to estimate the proportion of a given physician community that may qualify for a given survey. Further, we can then use the same information to target survey invitations to just those HCPs most likely to qualify, avoiding panel burnout and maximizing total panel capacity.

Do you measure respondent satisfaction? Is this information made available to clients?

  • Within projects, panel members have the opportunity to leave comments about the survey completed. We will be happy to share relevant feedback from members with clients.
  • We also:
    • Closely monitor on-going panel behavior by reviewing attrition rates, and response rates.
    • Employ a dedicated panel support team that deals directly with panelists’ comments and complaints. All member enquiries are logged, categorized and analyzed to provide early warning of emerging issues.

What information do you provide to debrief your client after the project has finished?

  • SERMO provides clients with access links to project performance reports in real-time. These reports include updates on quotas and sub-quotas, response rates and incidence rates in total and by quota, length of interview, and outcome by question or country.
  • SERMO Project Managers communicate with clients at a project’s closing to see if any further project related information is needed. If requested, additional information will then be provided (subject to applicable laws and codes of conduct).

Who is responsible for data quality checks? If it is you, do you have in place procedures to reduce or eliminate undesired within survey behaviors, such as (a) random responding, (b) Illogical or inconsistent responding, (c) overuse of item non-response (e.g. “Don’t Know”) or (d) speeding (too rapid survey completion)? Please describe these procedures.

  • SERMO is responsible for data checks for all studies programmed and hosted by us.
  • On a project-by-project basis proprietary automated and manual pattern detection methodologies are used to detect satisficers and fraudulent respondents. These methods include but are not limited to:
    • Trick/Red Herring questions flagging
    • Straight liner flagging
    • Open-end answers review/flagging
    • Machine Identification methodologies (RelevantID©)
  • Consequences of Satisficing or Fraud: SERMO operates a two-strikes and out policy for satisficing and a one-strike and out rule for fraud. Panel members that are suspected of satisficing or fraud are immediately removed from all live projects and prevented from participation in future projects until full investigation is completed.
  • Blacklisting: Details of panel members that are removed from the panel on account of Satisficing or Fraud are retained on the database, but blacklisted, and duplicate checks are deployed to ensure panel members do not re-register again. Additionally, Machine Identification (RelevantID©) is deployed to ensure that these panel members cannot re-register under different account details. participation in future projects until full investigation is completed.

How often can the same individual be contacted to take part in a survey within a specified period whether they respond to the contact or not? How does this vary across your sample sources?

Context: Over solicitation may have an impact on respondent engagement or on self-selection and non-response bias.

  • Working with closed and in some cases small respondent groups, the issue is not so much one of any individual supplier limiting survey invitations, but the industry as a whole doing so. The reality is, if SERMO do not invite a member to a survey then someone else will
  • However, we are acutely aware of the potential impact on response rates of over invitations and so monitor the situation very carefully although without imposing generic limits. We believe that managing for engagement is the better approach and a holistic approach is required. Please see Question 14 for a more complete discussion on this issue.

How often can the same individual take part in a survey within a specified period? How does this vary across your sample sources? How do you manage this within categories and/or time periods?

Context: Over solicitation may have an impact on respondent engagement or on self-selection and non-response bias.

  • SERMO does not believe that applying simplistic limits is the answer to this issue (see Question 19)
  • What is required is careful management of engagement levels, including items related to:
    • Survey design
    • Survey screen-out and quota-full rates
    • Honoraria levels
    • Messaging which speaks to the underlying motivation of participants
    • Digesting survey opportunities into Daily Emails with reminders
    • Where required, heavier touch communications with members, via outbound phone calls for reminders on individual projects as well as more general member (re)activation.

Do you maintain individual level data such as recent participation history, date of entry, source, etc., on your survey respondents? Are you able to supply your client with a project analysis of such individual level data?

  • In addition to profiling data collected directly from the respondent, SERMO also collects respondent data concerning:
    • recruitment source
    • survey participation history
    • individual response rates
  • Project summaries of this information are available to clients upon request.

Do you have a confirmation of respondent identity procedure? Do you have procedures to detect fraudulent respondents? Please describe these procedures as they are implemented at sample source registration and/or at the point of entry to a survey or router. If you offer B2B samples what are the procedures there, if any?

  • To facilitate the integrity of the panel at point of registration, SERMO:
    • monitors the recruitment and panel member verification telephone calls daily
    • de-duplicates (real-time) new panel member accounts against that of existing panel members
    • Deploys automated third party verification technologies or telephone verifies all new members that have not been recruited via the telephone
  • At the point of survey entry, SERMO utilizes:
    • Independent digital fingerprinting technology to minimize any residual risk of duplication
    • Verifies members have not been excluded from the panel subsequently to being invited
    • Deploys sophisticated profiling to again minimize the risk of fraudulent response patterns
    • Monitors survey response data in real time for surveys programmed and hosted by SERMO

Please describe the ‘opt-in for market research’ processes for all your online sample sources.

  • Panel members recruited via the telephone are given a description of what is involved in being a panel member then asked whether they wish to join. Telephone recruitment calls are monitored daily to ensure panel members truly opted in and are eligible to be a panel member
  • Panel members recruited via the website receive an email to confirm their panel registration. Once the link in the verification email has been activated, the panel member will be contacted at their place of work to both re-confirm their interest to be a panel member and to provide the contact details of a 3rd person who can verify the panel member’s eligibility to be a panel member. Only after successful verification at the panel member’s place of work by a 3rd party will the panel member be iinvited to our research projects
  • Panel members recruited via the website receive an email to confirm their panel registration. Once the link in the verification email has been activated, the panel member will be contacted at their place of work to both re-confirm their interest to be a panel member and to provide the contact details of a 3rd person who can verify the panel member’s eligibility to be a panel member. Only after successful verification at the panel member’s place of work by a 3rd party will the panel member be iinvited to our research projects

Please describe the ‘opt-in for market research’ processes for all your online sample sources.

  • SERMO’s Privacy Policy is provided to respondents on every survey invitation. It is also included within all surveys hosted by SERMO via a link in the survey page.
  • The Privacy Policy provided to a respondent will depend on whether the respondent is a member of the SERMO platform or our Market Research community
    Privacy Policy Link SERMO: http://www.sermo.com/what-is-sermo/terms
    Privacy Policy Link MR Community: http://tsandcs.mnow.com/w1privacy.html

Please describe the measures you take to ensure data protection and data security.

  • SERMO operates secure data networks protected by industry standard firewall and password protection systems. Our security and privacy policies are periodically reviewed and enhanced as necessary and only authorized individuals have access to the information.

What practices do you follow to decide whether online research should be used to present commercially sensitive client data or materials to survey respondents?

Context: There are no fool-proof methods for protecting audio, video, still images or concept descriptions in online surveys. In today’s social media world, clients should be aware that the combination of technology solutions and respondent confidentiality agreements are “speed bumps” that mitigate but cannot guarantee that a client’s stimuli will not be shared or described in social media

  • Our advice to clients is that, whilst we can make it harder for stimuli material to be copied and redistributed online, there is no technology solution to 100% prevent this. Any solution that we, or anybody else, deploy can be outwitted by a smartphone being used to photograph a screen and subsequently shared.
  • Our terms and conditions of membership include language to restrict use of survey content, but realistically this will do little more than allow us to remove a member who has already released materials (presuming they could be traced).
  • Our clients are thus warned to proceed with caution, to be wary of promises made on behalf of technology solutions and to balance the risks of discloser and the potential impact of a disclosure vs. what they may already have in the public domain.

Are you certified to any specific quality system? If so, which one(s)?

  • SERMO adheres to several international authorities guidelines for Market Research, including (but not limited to) CASRO, ESOMAR, BHBIA and EphMRA. SERMO staff also adhere to pharma-specific procedures per project as requested.
  • SERMO is committed to working with our clients in partnership to deliver research solutions that satisfy all above mentioned principles

Do you conduct online surveys with children and young people? If so, do you adhere to the standards that ESOMAR provides? What other rules or standards, for example COPPA in the United States, do you comply with?

  • No. All panelists in SERMO’s Global Medical Panel are healthcare professionals; there are no children and young people in the panel.