2013 IT Innovation Contest

A team-based contest for creative IT solutions

A user-friendly system for creating long-term, individually timed emails in Qualtrics

Proposal Status: 

Description of Project:

Quality follow-up data is paramount for clinical research, and Qualtrics Research Suite, a robust online survey system available for UCSF, makes it simple to create comprehensive follow-up surveys.  However, Qualtrics’ existing email function does not have the capacity to send automated, individually timed email messages.  Though the option to schedule emails for future delivery exists, it is only available for emailing the entire participant cohort at once, not allowing for the possibility of different participants joining the study at different times (even though rolling enrollment is the norm in clinical studies). Thus, researchers wishing to take advantage of the Qualtrics’ otherwise superior system must devote considerable time and effort of study personnel to manually schedule emails for each individual participant.  Adding the ability to send a series of email follow-ups over the course of months or years individually timed to each study participant would significantly enhance Qualtrics for UCSF, thereby improving the efficiency of clinical research or of any other project for which individually timed emails are desired.


Previously, we developed a custom solution for a specific study; this solution integrates the Qualtrics REST API (a native Qualtrics interface system) with Google App Engine (a web framework for developing web applications), creating in a robust, secure emailing system. For this project, we propose to develop a user-friendly way for others to create similar emailing systems.  Specifically, we propose to develop a set of scripts that are driven by an intuitive user interface, as well as a comprehensive, easy-to-follow manual for setting up the email system. Thus, a researcher will be able to set up a system to deliver emails on a desired schedule, with or without reminders, to any set of users represented in Qualtrics by a user panel (Qualtrics native user management system).  The system will include automated reliability checks, user status checks, and an error reporting system.  Importantly, the use of such system will not require the assistance of a programmer or a web developer. 



  • Google App Engine web site (python & HTML files)
  • Qualtrics sample integration survey
  • Manual (initial setup & customization) 

Impact on UCSF’s mission and/or community:

By making an existing research tool – Qualtrics – more powerful and effective, this project will increase the efficiency and impact of clinical research at UCSF.


List of team members and their roles:

  1. Omar Contreras, B.A. – Developer.  Mr. Contreras has been working at the UCSF for over 4 years, developing internet interventions for depression and smoking.  He was the main architect of the custom email system that will be the basis of this project.  
  2. Yan Leykin, Ph.D.  – Researcher.  Dr. Leykin is the Qualtrics Division Administrator for Psychiatry, and a researcher interested in using IT for mental health.  He will advise the Developer on researchers’ needs and help draft the Instruction Manual.
  3. Melissa Latham, B.A. – Ms. Latham will develop a comprehensive manual for setting up and customizing the system. 


This looks like a really helpful project. I run longitudinal studies and am considering using Qualtrics. This type of addition would be very useful to my work. 

Selected comments from Reviewers:

Was tough decision, a front runner proposal, a solution the committee liked. Seemed useful, though limited in audience relative to other entries

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