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Survey research in anesthesiology: a field guide to interpretation
  1. Hedwig Schroeck1,2,
  2. Kwame Wiredu1,
  3. Tae Wuk Ko1,
  4. David Record2 and
  5. Brenda Sirovich3,4
  1. 1Anesthesiology, Dartmouth College Geisel School of Medicine, Hanover, New Hampshire, USA
  2. 2Anesthesiology, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health System, Lebanon, New Hampshire, USA
  3. 3Medicine, White River Junction VA Medical Center, White River Junction, Vermont, USA
  4. 4The Dartmouth Institute, Dartmouth College Geisel School of Medicine, Hanover, New Hampshire, United States
  1. Correspondence to Dr Hedwig Schroeck, Dartmouth College Geisel School of Medicine, Hanover, NH 03755, USA; hedwig.schroeck{at}


Background Survey research, indispensable for assessing subjective outcomes in anesthesiology, can nonetheless be challenging to undertake and interpret.

Objective To present a user-friendly guide for the appraisal of survey-derived evidence, and to apply it to published survey research in the anesthesia literature.

Methods Synthesizing published expert guidance regarding methodology and reporting, we discuss five essential criteria (with subcomponents) for evaluating survey research: (1) relevance of survey outcome to research objective, (2) trustworthiness of the instrument (testing/validation, availability), (3) collecting information well (sampling, administration), (4) representativeness (response rate), and (5) guidance towards interpretation of survey findings (generalizability, interpretation of numerical outcomes). These criteria were subsequently applied by two independent assessors to original research articles reporting survey findings, published in the five highest impact general anesthesia journals (‘Anaesthesia’, ‘Anesthesia & Analgesia’, ‘Anesthesiology’, ‘British Journal of Anaesthesia’ and ‘European Journal of Anaesthesiology’) between July 01, 2016, and December 31, 2017, which were identified using a prespecified PubMed search strategy.

Results Among 1107 original articles published, we identified 97 reporting survey research either employing novel survey instruments (58%), established surveys (30%), or sets of single-item scores (12%). The extent to which reader-oriented benchmarks were achieved varied by component and between survey types. Results were particularly mixed for validation (mentioned for 41% of novel and 86% of established surveys) and discussion of generalizability (59% of novel survey reports, 45% of established surveys, and 17% of sets of single-item scores).

Conclusion Survey research is not uncommon in anesthesiology, frequently employs novel survey instruments, and demonstrates mixed results in terms of transparency and interpretability. We provide readers with a practical framework for critical interpretation of survey-derived outcomes.

  • study design
  • outcomes
  • education
  • methods
  • outcome assessment, health care

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  • Contributors HS contributed to planning, designing, and conducting of the study, data analysis, and writing the paper. KW contributed to planning and conducting of the study, data analysis, and writing the paper. TWK contributed to planning and conducting of the study, data analysis, and writing the paper. DAR contributed to planning and conducting of the study, and writing the paper. BS contributed to planning and designing of the study, data analysis, and writing the paper.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Disclaimer Opinions expressed in this manuscript are those of the authors and do not constitute official positions of the US Federal Government or the Department of Veterans Affairs.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available upon reasonable request. All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.