To compare three different methods of administering a brief screening questionnaire to elderly people: post, interview by lay interviewer, and interview by nurse.
Randomised comparison of methods within a cluster randomised trial.
106 general practices in the United Kingdom.
32 990 people aged 75 years or over registered with participating practices.
Main outcome measures
Response rates, proportion of missing values, prevalence of self reported morbidity, and sensitivity and specificity of self reported measures by method of administration of questionnaire for four domains.
The response rate was higher for the postal questionnaire than for the two interview methods combined (83.5% v 74.9%; difference 8.5%, 95% confidence interval 4.4% to 12.7%, P<0.001). The proportion of missing or invalid responses was low overall (mean 2.1%) but was greater for the postal method than for the interview methods combined (4.1% v 0.9%; difference 3.2%, 2.7% to 3.6%, P<0.001). With a few exceptions, levels of self reported morbidity were lower in the interview groups, particularly for interviews by nurses. The sensitivity of the self reported measures was lower in the nurse interview group for three out of four domains, but 95% confidence intervals for the estimates overlapped. Specificity of the self reported measures varied little by method of administration.
Postal questionnaires were associated with higher response rates but also higher proportions of missing values than were interview methods. Lower estimates of self reported morbidity were obtained with the nurse interview method and to a lesser extent with the lay interview method than with postal questionnaires.
What is already known on this topicThe optimum method of administering a brief multidimensional screening assessment to elderly people is not knownWhat this study addsPostal questionnaires produce a higher response rate than interviews by nurses or lay interviewers but also higher proportions of missing dataInterview by nurses and to a lesser degree by lay interviewers is associated with lower levels of self reported morbidity than are postal questionnaires