How Altarum Conducts Cost-Effective Healthcare Research

Case Study Overview

  • Altarum is a nonprofit organization that provides healthcare research, consulting, and technical assistance/solution development services for federal agencies, state agencies, and non-governmental organizations that manage healthcare delivery systems.
  • The Digital Communications team was dissatisfied with their former survey solution. They had grown to require a tool that would allow them to build a variety of surveys and online data collection forms that could be specifically tailored to each client’s needs.
  • Budget was a factor in solution selection for Altarum.
  • Upon comparing SurveyGizmo to other solutions in the market, the Digital Communications team found that SurveyGizmo offered more robust value for a lower cost than other products on the market.

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“I would tell anyone shopping for a survey tool to look at SurveyGizmo’s flexibility, customization features, and their extremely thorough online documentation. I think that these features, along with the well-designed user interface, make survey development much better and faster. Based on my experience with other survey tools, I believe that our work process would be slower, less efficient, and that our final product would not look as good without SurveyGizmo.”

– Jim Wetherill, Web Communications Specialist, Altarum

Meet Altarum

Altarum’s only ‘product’ is based on their collective knowledge and experience, so they do not necessarily leverage traditional corporate performance metrics. Instead, the team at Altarum tends to evaluate the tools that they use based on their ability to maintain or enhance the reputation and credibility of the company itself.

The organization employs about 400 people, with offices in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Portland, Maine, and the Washington DC area. They create about 50 surveys each year, and about half of these surveys are post-event evaluations of webinars or in-person conferences that Altarum has hosted. The other half cover a wide variety of surveys, with target audiences ranging from the 20 to 30 grantees in federal programs to the 800+ members of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In addition to building event-evaluation surveys, Altarum also uses the quiz function in SurveyGizmo to build assessment tools that allow participants to objectively evaluate Altarum’s programs.  

In order to stay competitive in their industry, Altarum has to be able to offer their clients a wide array of online communication capabilities. To deliver this, Altarum was in need of a survey tool that would allow them to build a variety of surveys and online data collection forms that would be specifically tailored to each client’s branding, and respective needs. 

As Altarum has grown to build more and more surveys each year for their clients, this need for a tool that would enable them to brand each survey to their respective client’s unique specifications became clearer and more pressing. Ultimately, it became obvious that a flexible, easy-to-customize solution was required in order to support Altarum’s efforts.

The Problem

Before the decision to adopt and implement SurveyGizmo, Altarum had been using another online survey tool that had been handed over to the Digital Communications team for its use by another internal department.

This survey tool had been previously adopted from the pre-cloud days because the vendor allowed customers to download the survey software and run it in their own secure server. This meant that the Altarum team was responsible for uploading and installing the new releases and patches every quarter, which consequently resulted in spending lots of otherwise billable hours troubleshooting server problems.

After a few years of using this tool, Jim Wetherill, a Web Communications Specialist at Altarum, decided that a change was needed. Altarum switched from self-hosting their survey software to a hosted account with the same vendor. The tool was adequate, but after another year had passed they realized there was a constantly growing number of requests for capabilities that were beyond their current survey tool’s functionality. 

“When we tried to explain these problems to our internal clients, we often heard something along the lines of ‘You can do that with [Brand]’s survey tool,’” explains Wetherill.

Then, in 2014, Wetherill and his team were asked to build a very sophisticated survey addressing Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) programs across the United States. But this program evaluation extended beyond the capabilities of their current survey tool.

While the compromises resulting from their platform’s shortcomings did not affect the data collection process in any way, the Altarum team was very disappointed that they could not do exactly what the client wanted.

Since they were approaching the end of their contract with that survey tool, they decided to conduct a search to see if there was a better option available in the market.

We found that SurveyGizmo’s wide range of questions types, mobile-device responsiveness, and many customization features allowed us to provide exactly what our clients wanted.”

– Jim Wetherill, Web Communications Specialist, Altarum

The Solution

The decision to explore other data insights solutions was not driven by any input from senior management. As the members of the Digital Communications team, Wetherill and his department are expected to use their familiarity with trends and technology to drive purchasing decisions and keep their communications capabilities up-to-date. 

To begin the search for a new online survey tool, the Digital Communications team performed a literature review using web search for articles that compared and ranked various survey applications. By leveraging these articles, they were able to compile a long list of possible candidates for survey software providers.

They then went online and studied each of the possible candidates carefully and started refining their list. At the end of this process, Wetherill and his team were left with two possible candidates – SurveyGizmo and another well-known provider of survey software. 

As their next step, they approached both companies and requested trial periods to test the two products. They enlisted several internal clients and data analysts to help with this evaluation process. 

At the end of the testing, SurveyGizmo was deemed the favorite. In addition to being extremely flexible and easy to implement, SurveyGizmo was the much cheaper option. It was difficult for the Digital Communications team to justify spending more money for analysis tools that could otherwise be duplicated.

In the end, Altarum decided on SurveyGizmo because it was much easier to customize and brand surveys to meet the many different demands of their clients.

The Results

Altarum has been using SurveyGizmo for its data collection initiatives since January of 2015. Within Altatrum, SurveyGizmo is controlled by the Digital Communications team. This team supports other project teams within Altarum by providing them with website development, webinar support, online newsletters, event registration sites, online surveys, 508-compliant recordings of government meetings and webinars, and other online services. 

There is one person in in the Digital Communications department, fluent in HTML and CSS, who works with clients to build all of the surveys and survey themes. In addition, there are data analysts working on other project teams that have access to SurveyGizmo’s response reporting and export functions.   

“We love SurveyGizmo for its flexibility,” explains Wetherill. “After we had started using SurveyGizmo, some of our projects teams started to take advantage of the mobile device templates to develop data collections forms for respondents in non-traditional environments. One of these data collection forms, a recruiting application for focus groups, was accessed thru a QR code placed on a poster that appeared in family planning clinics. Another mobile-only form was developed to allow graduate students at a conference provide immediate feedback to a conference presentation. The possibilities are endless.”

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