Background: Low response rates among surgeons can threaten the validity of surveys. Internet technologies may reduce the time, effort, and financial resources needed to conduct surveys.
Objective: We investigated whether using Web-based technology could increase the response rates to an international survey.
Methods: We solicited opinions from the 442 surgeon-members of the Orthopaedic Trauma Association regarding the treatment of femoral neck fractures. We developed a self-administered questionnaire after conducting a literature review, focus groups, and key informant interviews, for which we used sampling to redundancy techniques. We administered an Internet version of the questionnaire on a Web site, as well as a paper version, which looked similar to the Internet version and which had identical content. Only those in our sample could access the Web site. We alternately assigned the participants to receive the survey by mail (n=221) or an email invitation to participate on the Internet (n=221). Non-respondents in the mail arm received up to three additional copies of the survey, while non-respondents in the Internet arm received up to three additional requests, including a final mailed copy. All participants in the Internet arm had an opportunity to request an emailed Portable Document Format (PDF) version.
Results: The Internet arm demonstrated a lower response rate (99/221, 45%) than the mail questionnaire arm (129/221, 58%) (absolute difference 13%, 95% confidence interval 4%-22%, P<0.01).
Conclusions: Our Internet-based survey to surgeons resulted in a significantly lower response rate than a traditional mailed survey. Researchers should not assume that the widespread availability and potential ease of Internet-based surveys will translate into higher response rates.