About the panel

The Dutch Health Care Consumer Panel
What is the main goal of the Consumer Panel?
The aim of the Consumer Panel is to measure, at national level, opinions on and knowledge about health care and the expectations and experiences with health care. The panel can also be used for conducting research on more specific groups within the Dutch population (e.g. youth or women from age 20 to 40). Furthermore, for part of the panel members it is possible to combine their answers on questionnaires with data about their healthcare use as registered by their general practitioner.
Within the panel, we investigate a diverse range of research questions. Due to our statutory obligation, we have to publish the results of all the research conducted within the Consumer Panel. By collecting information at national level regarding opinions and experiences of users of health care, as well as by publishing the results of the conducted research, the panel helps to strengthen the position of healthcare users.
Background of the Consumer Panel
The Dutch Health Care Consumer Panel was set up in 1992 by NIVEL (Netherlands institute for health services research) and the Dutch Consumers Association. Since 2004, NIVEL manages the Consumer Panel. Throughout the years, the number of panel members increased. In 2004, the panel consisted of approximately 1,500 members. Subsequently, the panel increased to about 3,000 members in the year 2006. As of 2015, the panel consists of almost 12,000 panel members aged 18 years and older.
Also, the number of surveys increased since 2004: from about two or three surveys a year to about eight surveys a year. Surveys are questionnaires, which are sent by post or through the internet to members of the panel. These questionnaires are mainly composed by NIVEL. Topics to investigate within the Consumer Panel are chosen in agreement with the program committee of the panel. This program committee consists of representatives of the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, the Health Care Inspectorate, Zorgverzekeraars Nederland (Association of Health Care Insurers in the Netherlands), the National Health Care Institute, the Federation of Patients and Consumer Organisations in the Netherlands, the Dutch Healthcare Authority and the Dutch Consumers Association.
The Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport finances the infrastructure of the panel and one and a half survey a year. The rest of the surveys are financed by others (for example universities) who make use of the Consumer Panel.
The Consumer Panel is a so-called access panel. An access panel consists of a large number of persons who have agreed to answer questions on a regular base. In addition, many background characteristics of these persons (for example age, level of education, income, self-reported general health) are known. From our access panel we can draw the samples for every separate survey.
What kind of samples can be drawn from the panel?
Firstly, we can draw a sample that is representative of the Dutch population. In this case, we compare the composition of our panel with the general population in the Netherlands based on data from Statistics Netherlands (www.cbs.nl). The sample size depends on the number of background characteristics of the Dutch population the sample has to reflect. Currently, we send out about eight surveys per year. Most of them are representative of the general population by gender and age. Secondly, it is possible to draw a sample that is based on a selection of background characteristics that we know from our panel members. Possible sample selections are elderly (65 years and older) or women between age 20 and 40 etcetera. Thirdly, it is possible to draw a sample from panel members who agreed to combine their answers on questionnaires with data about their healthcare use as registered by their general practitioner.
How do we collect our data?
Within the Consumer Panel, data is collected using surveys. In total, approximately eight surveys a year are conducted. Each individual member of the panel receives a questionnaire around three times a year. Panel members can choose whether they want to receive a questionnaire by post or through the internet. The response rate depends on the target group and the subject of the questionnaire. Usually, we have a response rate of more than 70 percent for the questionnaires.
In addition to the written and online questionnaires, we are equipped to recruit members for interviews (by telephone or face-to-face) and focus groups, and to conduct these interviews and focus groups.
Why and how is the panel renewed?
The panel is renewed on regular base to enable us to form a representative sample of the Dutch population. Renewal is necessary to make sure that members do not develop specific knowledge of, and attention for, healthcare issues, and that no ‘questionnaire-fatigue’ occurs. Moreover, renewal compensates for panel members who, for example, have died or moved without informing us about the new address.
We recruit possible new members for the panel by means of two ways. Firstly, we buy an address file from an address supplier. As a result, possible new members for the panel are sampled at random from the general population in the Netherlands. When we buy an address file, we make sure that certain groups that are underrepresented in our panel, for example young people, are overrepresented in the address file that we buy for the renewal. Secondly, since 2013, we also recruit possible new members via general practices participating in the NIVEL Primary Care Database. A part of the patients of these general practices will be selected by a third party, and subsequently approached to become member of the Consumer Panel. For the members who are recruited by means of general practices, it is possible to combine their answers on questionnaires with data about their healthcare use as registered by their general practitioner if they explicitly agreed with this. Sampled people receive an information letter about the panel, a flyer and a basic questionnaire on their background characteristics (for example: age, level of education, income etc.). When the basic questionnaire is completed and returned, people are considered to be members of the panel.
How do we guarantee the privacy of our panel members?
The privacy of our panel members is guaranteed. Every panel member has a unique number, which is linked to the address of the member. These addresses are stored separately from the data of the questionnaires. All data are carefully stored by NIVEL. Privacy of panel members is guaranteed, since people who analyse the data do not have access to the personal information of the panel members. All these procedures are described in the privacy policy of the Dutch Health Care Consumer Panel. In addition, there is a privacy policy for the recruitment of patients via general practices participating in NIVEL Primary Care Database. The Dutch Health Care Consumer Panel is registered with the Dutch Data Protection Authority (nr. 1262949, see for more information (www.cbpweb.nl). According to the Dutch legislation, neither obtaining informed consent nor approval by a medical ethics committee is obligatory for doing research within the Consumer Panel (see for more information http://www.ccmo.nl/en/your-research-does-it-fall-under-the-wmo). Only for combining answers on questionnaires with data about healthcare use as registered by their general practitioner informed consent is needed and asked.
What is our research used for?
Our research is used for different objectives. For example, our research is used for the evaluation of policy, but also to generate input for policy making. Furthermore, effects of changes in health care can be identified and experiences with health care can be measured as well as the knowledge and expectations with respect to health care.
Examples of research
The Consumer Panel is used for a wide range of research questions. Many subjects are investigated once, but we also conduct longitudinal studies.
For example, in 2014 NIVEL examined how consumers choose for a hospital and to what extent they choose actively. If they indicated to choose actively, we asked on what information they base their decision. Furthermore, we conduct research into changing health insurer by consumers (measured nearly every year since 2006). We examine, among others, the number of switchers, their characteristics and their reasons for switching. Another example of longitudinal research within the panel is our research regarding consumer trust in health care (measured every two years).
The research conducted within the Consumer Panel results in a large number of publications. We publish in international peer-reviewed journals, but we also publish reports, columns and factsheets. 

More information
If you want more information on the Consumer Panel or if you have any questions, please contact us. You can contact us by phone (+31 [0]30 2 729 662) or by e-mail (consumentenpanel@nivel.nl).