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      Exploring physician specialist response rates to web-based surveys


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          Survey research in healthcare is an important tool to collect information about healthcare delivery, service use and overall issues relating to quality of care. Unfortunately, physicians are often a group with low survey response rates and little research has looked at response rates among physician specialists. For these reasons, the purpose of this project was to explore survey response rates among physician specialists in a large metropolitan Canadian city.


          As part of a larger project to look at physician payment plans, an online survey about medical billing practices was distributed to 904 physicians from various medical specialties. The primary method for physicians to complete the survey was via the Internet using a well-known and established survey company ( www.surveymonkey.com). Multiple methods were used to encourage survey response such as individual personalized email invitations, multiple reminders, and a draw for three gift certificate prizes were used to increase response rate. Descriptive statistics were used to assess response rates and reasons for non-response.


          Overall survey response rate was 35.0%. Response rates varied by specialty: Neurology/neurosurgery (46.6%); internal medicine (42.9%); general surgery (29.6%); pediatrics (29.2%); and psychiatry (27.1%). Non-respondents listed lack of time/survey burden as the main reason for not responding to our survey.


          Our survey results provide a look into the challenges of collecting healthcare research where response rates to surveys are often low. The findings presented here should help researchers in planning future survey based studies. Findings from this study and others suggest smaller monetary incentives for each individual may be a more appropriate way to increase response rates.

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          Most cited references40

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          Increasing response rates to postal questionnaires: systematic review.

          To identify methods to increase response to postal questionnaires. Systematic review of randomised controlled trials of any method to influence response to postal questionnaires. 292 randomised controlled trials including 258 315 participants INTERVENTION REVIEWED: 75 strategies for influencing response to postal questionnaires. The proportion of completed or partially completed questionnaires returned. The odds of response were more than doubled when a monetary incentive was used (odds ratio 2.02; 95% confidence interval 1.79 to 2.27) and almost doubled when incentives were not conditional on response (1.71; 1.29 to 2.26). Response was more likely when short questionnaires were used (1.86; 1.55 to 2.24). Personalised questionnaires and letters increased response (1.16; 1.06 to 1.28), as did the use of coloured ink (1.39; 1.16 to 1.67). The odds of response were more than doubled when the questionnaires were sent by recorded delivery (2.21; 1.51 to 3.25) and increased when stamped return envelopes were used (1.26; 1.13 to 1.41) and questionnaires were sent by first class post (1.12; 1.02 to 1.23). Contacting participants before sending questionnaires increased response (1.54; 1.24 to 1.92), as did follow up contact (1.44; 1.22 to 1.70) and providing non-respondents with a second copy of the questionnaire (1.41; 1.02 to 1.94). Questionnaires designed to be of more interest to participants were more likely to be returned (2.44; 1.99 to 3.01), but questionnaires containing questions of a sensitive nature were less likely to be returned (0.92; 0.87 to 0.98). Questionnaires originating from universities were more likely to be returned than were questionnaires from other sources, such as commercial organisations (1.31; 1.11 to 1.54). Health researchers using postal questionnaires can improve the quality of their research by using the strategies shown to be effective in this systematic review.
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            Development of a Standard E-Mail Methodology: Results of an Experiment

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              Reported response rates to mailed physician questionnaires.

              To examine response rate information from mailed physician questionnaires reported in published articles. Citations for articles published between 1985 and 1995 were obtained using a key word search of the Medline, PsychLit, and Sociofile databases. A 5 percent random sample of relevant citations was selected from each year. Citations found to be other than physician surveys were discarded and replaced with the next randomly assigned article. Selected articles were abstracted using a standardized variable list. The average response rate for mailed physician questionnaires was 61 percent. The average response rate for large sample surveys (> 1,000 observations) was 52 percent. In addition, only 44 percent of the abstracted articles reported a discussion of response bias, and only 54 percent reported any type of follow-up. (1) Response rates have remained somewhat constant over time, and (2) researchers need to document the efforts used to increase response rates to mailed physician questionnaires.

                Author and article information

                BMC Med Res Methodol
                BMC Med Res Methodol
                BMC Medical Research Methodology
                BioMed Central (London )
                9 April 2015
                9 April 2015
                : 15
                [ ]Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB Canada
                [ ]Department of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB Canada
                [ ]Department of Psychiatry, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB Canada
                [ ]Department of Pediatric Nephrology, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB Canada
                [ ]Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Hotchkiss Brain Institute and Institute for Public Health, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB Canada
                © Cunningham et al.; licensee BioMed Central. 2015

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

                Research Article
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                © The Author(s) 2015

                survey methodologies,healthcare,response rate,specialists,physicians
                survey methodologies, healthcare, response rate, specialists, physicians


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