Physician response to surveys. A review of the literature

Am J Prev Med. 2001 Jan;20(1):61-7. doi: 10.1016/s0749-3797(00)00258-0.


Objective: Physician-specific surveys are a frequently used tool in health services research, but attempts at ensuring adequate response rates are rarely reported. We reviewed literature of survey methodology specific to physician surveys and report those found to be most effective.

Data sources: Studies were identified by searching MEDLINE and PSYCHInfo from 1967 through February 1999. We included all English-language studies that randomized physician survey respondents to an experimental or control group. The authors independently extracted data from 24 studies examining survey methodology of physician-specific surveys. We included Mantel-Haenszel chi-squares comparing treatment groups, if present. If not, these were calculated from study data.

Results: Pre-notification of survey recipients, personalizing the survey mailout package, and nonmonetary incentives were not associated with increased response rates. Monetary incentives, the use of stamps on both outgoing and return envelopes, and short questionnaires did increase response rates. Few differences were reported in response rates of phone surveys compared with mail surveys and between the demographics and practice characteristics of early survey respondents and late respondents.

Conclusions: We report some simple approaches that may significantly increase response rates of mail surveys. Surprisingly, the response rates of mail surveys of physicians compared favorably with those from telephone and personal interview surveys. Nonresponse bias may be of less concern in physician surveys than in surveys of the general public. Future research steps include specifically testing the more compelling results to allow for better control of confounders.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physicians*
  • Probability
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States