Phone scam fears are creating barriers for the state Health Department's efforts to collect data on the health characteristics of Hawaii's residents.
Each year, the Health Department needs to gather at least 6,500 interviews from local residents so the Centers for Disease Control can include Hawaii in its national health statistics.
But the department said phone scam fears are making residents reluctant to answer calls from people they don't know.
"In addition to us calling, they also received telemarketer calls and the issue of phone scams has become predominately an urgent matter for the public," Ranjani Starr, epidemiologist with the Health Department said.
Failure to hit the 6,500 target could drop Hawaii from the CDC's national health surveys and that could affect millions in federal grants, Starr said.
The Health Department contracts with SMS Research to conduct the surveys, paying the firm about $300,000 a year. SMS President James Danemiller said the firm has reached its goal each year but it says it's been a struggle recently.
The Health Department stressed that there are no questions in the survey about a person's finances and respondents' names aren't even used.
"We might ask them have you ever been diagnosed with high blood pressure. Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes. Has a doctor ever advised you to stop smoking," Starr said.
She said people can double-check if the calls are legitimate by calling SMS Research's toll-free number at (888) 502-7377.
"We encourage people to respond to these surveys and remind them that this is very critical for the state of Hawaii to understand their state of health and thank them for their time and patience in responding to these surveys," said Starr.