Illness - a fact or an experience?
- Two types of information
- A factual question also requires interpretation and assessment
- "It just didn't occur to me"
- "It is not any real illness"
- Factual information – is it really available?
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Regardless of the formulation, the open question and list of illnesses produced in pre-testing a different number and different kinds of illnesses and health problems. Ten of the 13 persons interviewed said in connection with the first question that they had illnesses. When asked about it again with the help of the list of illnesses, seven reported several illnesses and partly different ones than in the open question. The five remaining interviewees started to consider as concerns the listed illnesses whether they should say yes or no. Listing of illnesses thus made respondents think more accurately about their own state of health, and for this reason this produced different responses.
In addition, the list helped to elicit better such health problems that the respondent does not consider illnesses despite reading of the definition of longstanding illnesses. These are especially work-related musculoskeletal system problems, neck, shoulder and back disorders, illnesses that might be seen as "everyday", and such health problems that are not acute at the time of responding.
Interviewer (asks mode 2 question): "Migraine?"
Respondent F2: "Yes. I'm a really typical migraine case. It's not every day, but it can be every week. It did not occur to me earlier as it is such an everyday bother."
If the respondent's illness does not appear directly from the list of illnesses, it may be left unreported. For this reason the list must be as exhaustive as possible to work in the desired way. However, the list acts as an aid to remembering, which is important particularly as concerns general but undiagnosed and minor health problems.
An advantage of the open question is that it makes it possible for the respondent to tell about the illness personally. Its shortcoming is that even if the interviewer reads out the definition of a longstanding illness, respondents easily mention also such serious illnesses that have had a strong effect on the person's personality and identity, but that have been treated and no longer bother them. For instance, treated breast cancer gained prominence with the open question but not with the direct list of illnesses.
Interviewer (asks mode 1 question): "Do you have some chronic illness or other longstanding health problem: yes, one; yes, several or no illnesses?"
Respondent F3: "I have to say several. One of them is heart decease and it is constantly under control. And then I have breast cancer, which is newer."
(Later in the interview)
Interviewer (asks mode 2 question): "Cancer?"
Respondent F3: "No."
Interviewer: "So here cancer is not... is it over?"
Respondent F3: "I feel so because I have to take medication every day because of my heart but not because of cancer. Breast cancer can break out again, though. Therefore, it is still at the back of my head. I am still under constant observation. As women have mammography, it will come out there."
The list question, when made with care, also seems to support respondents' recalling and reduce the experienced response burden, and lower reporting of already treated illnesses that are meaningful to the respondent. An open question encourages respondents to talk more about their experiences of illnesses than a structured question mode.
Last updated 26.9.2011