The purpose of the current study was to identify and describe strategies available to optimize retention of a high-risk research cohort and assist in the recovery of study participants following participant dropout.
Design and Methods
The Maternal Lifestyle Study (MLS), which investigated the effects of prenatal substance exposure (cocaine or opiates) on child outcome, is a prospective longitudinal follow-up study that extended from birth through 15 years of age. Retention strategies to maximize participation and factors that might negatively impact compliance were examined over the course of five follow-up phases.
At the conclusion of the 15-year visits, MLS had successfully maintained compliance at 76%. Retention rates did not differ by exposure group.
Maintaining ongoing participation of enrolled study subjects is a critical element of any successful longitudinal study. Strategies that can be used to reengage and maintain participants in longitudinal research include persistence, flexibility with scheduling, home visits, long-distance trips, increased incentives, and development of a computerized tracking system. Establishing rapport with families and ensuring confidentiality contributed to overall participant retention. The use of multiple tracking techniques is essential.
Researchers are challenged to maintain participants in longitudinal studies to ensure the integrity of their research.