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BMC Public Health. 2012; 12: 579.
Published online Jul 31, 2012. doi:  10.1186/1471-2458-12-579
PMCID: PMC3506531
Effect of survey instrument on participation in a follow-up study: a randomization study of a mailed questionnaire versus a computer-assisted telephone interview
Carissa M Rocheleau,corresponding author1,2 Paul A Romitti,1 Stacey Hockett Sherlock,1 Wayne T Sanderson,3 Erin M Bell,4 and Charlotte Druschel4,5
1Department of Epidemiology, College of Public Health, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, 52242, USA
2National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Cincinnati, OH, 45226, USA
3Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, College of Public Health, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, 52242, USA
4Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health, State University of New York at Albany, Rensselaer, NY, 12144, USA
5New York State Department of Health, Troy, NY, 12180, USA
corresponding authorCorresponding author.
Carissa M Rocheleau: crocheleau/at/cdc.gov; Paul A Romitti: paul-romitti/at/uiowa.edu; Stacey Hockett Sherlock: stacey-hockett/at/uiowa.edu; Wayne T Sanderson: wsa223/at/uky.edu; Erin M Bell: ebell/at/albany.edu; Charlotte Druschel: cmd05/at/health.state.ny.us
Received March 29, 2012; Accepted July 17, 2012.
Abstract
Background
Many epidemiological and public health surveys report increasing difficulty obtaining high participation rates. We conducted a pilot follow-up study to determine whether a mailed or telephone survey would better facilitate data collection in a subset of respondents to an earlier telephone survey conducted as part of the National Birth Defects Prevention Study.
Methods
We randomly assigned 392 eligible mothers to receive a self-administered, mailed questionnaire (MQ) or a computer-assisted telephone interview (CATI) using similar recruitment protocols. If mothers gave permission to contact the fathers, fathers were recruited to complete the same instrument (MQ or CATI) as mothers.
Results
Mothers contacted for the MQ, within all demographic strata examined, were more likely to participate than those contacted for the CATI (86.6% vs. 70.6%). The median response time for mothers completing the MQ was 17 days, compared to 29 days for mothers completing the CATI. Mothers completing the MQ also required fewer reminder calls or letters to finish participation versus those assigned to the CATI (median 3 versus 6), though they were less likely to give permission to contact the father (75.0% vs. 85.8%). Fathers contacted for the MQ, however, had higher participation compared to fathers contacted for the CATI (85.2% vs. 54.5%). Fathers recruited to the MQ also had a shorter response time (median 17 days) and required fewer reminder calls and letters (median 3 reminders) than those completing the CATI (medians 28 days and 6 reminders).
Conclusions
We concluded that offering a MQ substantially improved participation rates and reduced recruitment effort compared to a CATI in this study. While a CATI has the advantage of being able to clarify answers to complex questions or eligibility requirements, our experience suggests that a MQ might be a good survey option for some studies.
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