Do GPs respond to postal questionnaire surveys? A comprehensive review of primary care literature

Fam Pract. 2011 Aug;28(4):461-7. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmr001. Epub 2011 Feb 18.


Background: There is a general consensus that postal surveys of physicians have low response rates. Recent systematic reviews have provided an improved evidence base to help researchers maximize response rates to self-completion questionnaires but to date, there is no comprehensive analysis of whether response rates have improved.

Objective: To determine a contemporary estimate for the mean response rate to surveys of GPs published in primary care journals over the past decade.

Method: Twenty-four primary care journals from January 2000 to summer 2009 were searched for postal surveys of GPs. A total of 2838 abstracts were screened, with 683 full-text articles being examined for eligibility and 355 citations included.

Results: Three hundred and sixty-one surveys of GPs were identified. A total of 338 598 questionnaires were distributed during the study period, with 182 256 returned response rate 61% (95% confidence interval [CI] 59-63%). There was some evidence of an association between response rate and journal impact factor, with a statistically significant higher mean response rate for journals in the highest (mean 67%; 95% CI 64-70%) compared to journals in the lowest quartile of impact factor (mean 55%; 95% CI 51-59%). There was no evidence that mean response rate had increased in the period from 2000 to 2009.

Conclusions: Postal questionnaires of GPs do not necessarily result in a low response rate. Response rates over the past decade appear relatively unchanged despite the greater evidence base for improving response and further work should explore reasons for this.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • General Practitioners / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*