Using plain language and adding communication technology to an existing health-related questionnaire to help generate accurate information

Authors Marlies Welbie, Harriët Wittink, Marjan J. Westerman, Ilse Topper, Josca Snoei, Walter L.J.M. Devill√©
Published in Journal of Medical Internet Research
Publication date 2018
Research groups Lifestyle and Health, Research Competence
Type Article


Background: Low-educated patients are disadvantaged in using questionnaires within the health care setting because most health-related questionnaires do not take the educational background of patients into account. The Dutch Talking Touch Screen Questionnaire (DTTSQ) was developed in an attempt to meet the needs of low-educated patients by using plain language and adding communication technology to an existing paper-based questionnaire. For physical therapists to use the DTTSQ as part of their intake procedure, it needs to generate accurate information from all of their patients, independent of educational level. Objective: The aim of this study was to get a first impression of the information that is generated by the DTTSQ. To achieve this goal, response processes of physical therapy patients with diverse levels of education were analyzed. Methods: The qualitative Three-Step Test-Interview method was used to collect observational data on actual response behavior of 24 physical therapy patients with diverse levels of education. The interviews included both think-aloud and retrospective probing techniques. Results: Of the 24 respondents, 20 encountered one or more problems during their response process. The use of plain language and information and communication technology (ICT) appeared to have a positive effect on the comprehensibility of the DTTSQ. However, it also had some negative effects on the interpretation, retrieval, judgment, and response selection within the response processes of the participants in this study. No educational group in this research population stood out from the rest in the kind or number of problems that arose. All respondents recognized themselves in the outcomes of the questionnaire. Conclusions: The use of plain language and ICT within the DTTSQ had both positive and negative effects on the response processes of its target population. The results of this study emphasize the importance of earlier recommendations to accompany any adaption of any questionnaire to a new mode of delivery by demonstrating the difference and equivalence between the two different modes and to scientifically evaluate the applicability of the newly developed mode of the questionnaire in its intended setting. This is especially important in a digital era in which the use of plain language within health care is increasingly being advocated.

On this publication contributed

Language English
Published in Journal of Medical Internet Research
Year and volume 20 4
Key words educational status, surveys and questionnaires, physical therapy specialty, qualitative research

Marlies Welbie

Marlies Welbie | Researcher | Methodology of Practice-Based Research

Marlies Welbie

  • Researcher
  • Research group: Research Competence