Last night I got a telephone call from a health company doing a telephone survey. Usually I don't take these kinds of calls, but maybe I should. Are these companies really making a difference with their research?

When carried out properly, telephone surveys can give health care providers, insurance companies, and researchers important information. Usually the questions are about what you think or believe and how you respond to certain problems. Knowing how the public thinks and what their reactions might be to injuries or diseases can help researchers do their work.

For example, the Workers' Compensation group in Australia wanted to encourage the general public to keep active and return to work quickly after back injury. Based on information from previous studies, we know this response to back pain is more successful than rest and inactivity. The research group interviewed thousands of people over the telephone before launching a large public education plan about back pain. Then they called all the same people back and asked them the same questions. By studying the responses, researchers could see that their education program had worked to change the attitudes of the people surveyed and their doctors.

If you have any doubts about a group that calls you, ask for the group's name, location, and a number where you can call them back. This can help assure you that the group is legitimate. A good, quality study will have ways to keep the information you give confidential. You may want to ask how the group got your name and number, and if they will be giving this information to other groups.