ESOMAR 28 Questions

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.

1. Sample Sources & Recruitment

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

Sermo has been specializing in global HCP data collection since 2005. In 2018 alone, Sermo conducted over 3,200 research projects and over 700,000 completed surveys. We currently offer the most extensive online healthcare panel with more than 1.3 million members in 150 countries.

02. 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. All panelists are validated healthcare professionals, opted-in to receive invitations to surveys via email, and are all actively managed and profiled by Sermo to the same exacting standards, including quality of response, engagement and incentives.

03. 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 RelevantID™ from Imperium, an independent digital fingerprinting solution to provide an additional level of reassurance to our clients, as well as contributing to our overall de-duplication and quality management framework.

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


Sermo is also a global social network that is active in 150 countries with 1 million members worldwide. Through the Sermo community, physicians are provided with a number of other opportunities to participate in discussions around medicine, polls, 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.

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

Almost all of our groups are what would traditionally be identified as “hard to reach,” which is why we utilize a multi-pronged approach to recruitment via telephone, online (where applicable), and through trusted partnerships.

06. 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?

Sermo has a list of trusted partners we use to supplement samples as needed. 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.

We always notify clients when a third-party provider is required. If possible, clients are notified at the time the project is bid, otherwise prior to the “top-up” supplier being engaged. If clients request, we will happily discuss potential “top-up” suppliers.

2. Sampling & Project Management

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

Because a universe list does not always exist in the healthcare space, it is not always possible to produce the probability sample required to be representative. However, we work closely with our clients to produce and deliver stratified samples that closely approximate a representative sample by careful selection of quotas. In cases where a panel has most or the entire specialty included within the panel, then a random sample of the panel is representative.

08. Do you employ a survey router?

Sermo does not employ a survey router at this time.

09. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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, specialty 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.

13. 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
  • the length of interview
  • incentive due for completion
  • unique survey link and a set of unique login details
  • deadline for survey completion
  • contact information
  • unsubscribe instructions
  • privacy and voluntary participation statement

We also promote all available survey opportunities for an individual member into a Daily Email which provides the above level of detail.

14. 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. Other powerful drivers of participation include a desire to learn something new and a willingness to contribute to the improvement of healthcare delivery.

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:

  • Streamlining survey design
  • 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

Panel members are rewarded for the completion of our surveys and these details are clearly explained in the initial invitation. Incentive values depend on various factors, e.g. the length and complexity of a study, the respondent type (specialty) 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

15. 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 make an accurate estimate using profiling information to determine the proportion of a given physician community that may qualify for a survey. 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.

16. 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 are happy to share relevant feedback from members with clients.

We also:

  • Closely monitor on-going panel behavior by reviewing attrition 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.

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

Throughout the entirety of a project, Sermo offers clients access to Dashboard Analytics, an online application that houses all survey results, tools to conduct analyses, and the capability to export results directly into PowerPoint and Excel.

Sermo also 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).

3. Data Quality & Validation

18. 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 we program and host.

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©)

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.

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.

19. 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 does 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 therefore we monitor the situation very carefully without imposing generic limits. We believe that managing for engagement is the better approach. Please refer to Question 14 for a more complete discussion on this issue.

20. 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 in applying generic limits, but rather focuses on 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
  • As needed, we employ heavier touch communications with members via outbound phone calls for reminders on individual projects as well as more general member (re)activation.

4. Policies & Compliance

21. 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.

22. 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

23. 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 invited 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 invited to our research projects.

24. Please provide a link to your Privacy Policy. How is your Privacy Policy provided to your respondents?

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. Our priority is to protect the information of the panelists and to the end, we specify in the privacy policy all the purposes for which we collect personal data and allow panelists to opt-out in case they don’t want us to use their information. In specific cases where clients are asking for contact information of a panelist for A.E., we ask panelists for informed consent first before releasing their information.

Since the GDPR guidelines have gone into effect, we also ask our members to read and actively accept our privacy policy as we’ve made improvements to the way we collect and use private information.

Privacy Policy
Terms of Service

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

Sermo operates secure data networks protected by next generation firewalls 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.

26. 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.

While 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 can be outwitted by a smartphone being used to photograph and share a screen. 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 disclosure and the potential impact of a disclosure vs. what they may already have in the public domain.

Our terms and conditions of membership include language to restrict use of survey content. If a member has been found to have shared materials, we will remove them from the panel.

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

Sermo adheres to several international 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.

28. 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.