Purpose: A randomized unblinded controlled trial was used to assess the utility of electronic questionnaires in a survey of Canadian anesthesiologists.
Methods: Postal or electronic questionnaires were sent between November 2001 and March 2002 to 1,333 anesthesiologists registered with the Canadian Anesthesiologists' Society. The primary outcome measure was the difference in response rates between electronic and postal questionnaires. Secondary outcome measures included a comparison of demographic characteristics, cost, and knowledge and practice regarding prophylactic perioperative beta blockade.
Results: The overall response rate was 52%. E-mail participants were half as likely as postal participants to respond to the questionnaire (35% vs 69%, relative risk = 0.51, 95% confidence interval 0.45-0.58). Respondents who provided an e-mail address were younger and more likely to be affiliated with an academic institution. There were no significant differences in responses to knowledge and practice questions. The electronic arm was faster than the postal arm and the cost per reply was one-third the cost of the postal arm (2.50 dollars vs 8.02 dollars).
Conclusions: Electronic surveys are a means of acquiring information from a large number of individuals in a rapid, efficient and cost-effective manner. This methodology may be particularly valid and useful in surveys of participants with similar backgrounds and internet access. However the lower response rates achieved as compared with postal surveys indicates a need to use vigilance when generalizing results to a broader population.