Increasing response rates from physicians in oncology research: a structured literature review and data from a recent physician survey

Br J Cancer. 2012 Mar 13;106(6):1021-6. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2012.28. Epub 2012 Feb 28.


Although the physician survey has become an important tool for oncology-focused health services research, such surveys often achieve low response rates. This mini-review reports the results of a structured review of the literature relating to increasing response rates for physician surveys, as well as our own experience from a survey of physicians as to their referral practices for suspected haematologic malignancy in the United States. PubMed and PsychINFO databases were used to identify methodological articles assessing factors that influence response rates for physician surveys; the results were tabulated and reviewed for trends. We also analysed the impact of a follow-up telephone call by a physician investigator to initial non-responders in our own mailed physician survey, comparing the characteristics of those who responded before vs after the call. The systematic review suggested that monetary incentives and paper (vs web or email) surveys increase response rates. In our own survey, follow-up telephone calls increased the response rate from 43.7% to 70.5%, with little discernible difference in the characteristics of early vs later responders. We conclude that in addition to monetary incentives and paper surveys, physician-to-physician follow-up telephone calls are an effective method to increase response rates in oncology-focused physician surveys.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Health Care Surveys / methods
  • Health Care Surveys / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Massachusetts
  • Medical Oncology
  • Persuasive Communication*
  • Physicians*
  • Telephone