Purpose: This study compared the response time, response rate, and cost of two types of survey administration techniques: e-mail/web-based versus conventional postal mail. The main aim of the survey was to collect descriptive information on the existence of Acute Care for Elders units and their characteristics by surveying geriatric division chiefs.
Design and methods: Two randomized cohorts of geriatric division chiefs were formed to receive a survey either by electronic mail (n = 57) or by conventional postal mail (n = 57). If there was no response to the initial mailing, two follow-up mailings were sent to both groups using the original modality; a third follow-up was performed using the alternative modality. For each group, response rate and response time were calculated. The average total cost was computed and compared across two groups.
Results: The aggregate response rate was 58% (n = 31) for the e-mail group versus 77% (n = 44) for the postal mail group. The overall average response time was shorter in the e-mail group, 18 days compared with 33 days for the conventional postal mailing group. The cost comparison showed that average cost was $7.70 for the e-mail group, compared to $10.50 per response for the conventional mail group.
Implications: It appears that although the web-based technology is gaining popularity and leads to lower cost per response, the conventional postal method of surveying continues to deliver a better response rate among the geriatric medicine division chiefs. The web-based approach holds promise given its lower costs and acceptable response rate combined with the shorter response time.