EpiSurveyor: A Smart Investment in Data Quality

Joel Selanikio ON 30 July 2012

I spotted an abstract online today, submitted by by SCMS to the AIDS2012 conference now taking place in Washington, DC. Entitled “A smart investment: the use of mobile technology to conduct the first assessment of the national HIV/AIDS supply chain system in Nigeria”, the abstract notes:

“With immediate access to field data, the central team constantly monitored the data for quality and was able to send questions to the field teams and correct errors.” (click to read the full abstract)

The abstract notes that EpiSurveyor was the mobile software used for the data collection activity.

Collecting data on mobile phones, rather than on paper, is a new experience for many. Usually people assume that EpiSurveyor will be faster than paper, but they don’t think it will necessarily increase data quality. In fact, quite often there is concern that quality will be diminished: since the supervisors are accustomed to reviewing the paper forms in the field, program staff wonder how the elimination of paper will affect the data quality. After all: if paper forms cannot be reviewed, quality cannot be imposed (or so they think).

In reality, rather than decreasing data quality, mobile electronic data collection with EpiSurveyor actually tends to increase it. This is for two reasons:

  • enforced data controls – when using an electronic device, data controls can be imposed at the point of data entry. For example, with paper forms it is easy to ignore the printed instructions: someone choosing from exclusive multiple choice options on paper (“Please select only one answer”) can choose to ignore the instructions and select more than one. With an electronic system like EpiSurveyor, the instructions must be followed: more than one choice cannot be selected (unless the form designer chooses to allow it). Similarly, skip patterns are automatically followed, numeric range limits must be heeded, required questions must be answered, and with EpiSurveyor far more complex controls are also possible.
  • rapid view of all data – as noted in the abstract above, supervisors with internet access can view all the data (even from the whole country or region) as it is uploaded, and they can call their personnel if they spot errors or potential problems. A classic example is when teams are using GPS-enabled phones and their supervisors are able to spot on a map whether the data is being collected at the correct locations. Or if a supervisor notes the automatic date-time stamp on each data record and notes that form is being filled out too quickly to be reliable. Or simply if the data doesn’t seem to make sense. But instead of being limited to viewing the paper forms from close by, now supervisors can view the entire dataset as it is collected.

At DataDyne, we’ve been driven for years to get more data for health and for other development issues, but it’s just as important to note that EpiSurveyor also makes it easier to get higher-quality data.