Editor’s note: Jerry Arbittier is president of New York City-based SurveyHealthCare.

When we developed our first physician Internet panel in November 2000, the aspect that was quite astonishing was the speed with which physicians completed the study. We programmed our first study, mailed out our recently-recruited e-mails and waited in anxious anticipation to see what would happen. Every hour we would check the counter and every hour we would see the number of physicians completing the study at a faster rate than we ever saw before. We realized that we had a technique that would allow us to complete studies in half the time than traditional phone survey. But, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, for everything you gain, you lose something else.

One of the major downsides of getting a quick response was that if you made a mistake in the survey, you had a great deal of garbage data. When we do physician studies, not only do we have to pay for the sample, we also have to pay the physicians for their time. While honoraria and recruitment costs were much lower than in the past, for a 45-minute study, you could be paying as much as $300 for studies with surgeons, oncologists and other hard-to-reach groups. When you recruited the sample by telephone and were only able to obtain five to 10 completed respondents in the first few days, the costs of a mistake were high but bearable. However, when you recruited 100-200 physicians on the Internet in the first day or two, the cost of a mistake could impact someone’s job security.

Since none of us wanted to lose our jobs, we developed techniques to check Internet surveys that would reduce the possibility of a mistake. We needed to develop methods that were different from traditional checking methods - the Internet required it. An Internet survey is a self-administered instrument. In a telephone interview, if the program has an error in it, the telephone interviewer m...