Background: Low survey response rates in general practice are common and lead to loss of power, selection bias, unexpected budgetary constraints and time delays in research projects.
Objective: To assess the effectiveness of recruitment strategies aimed at increasing survey response rates among GPs.
Design: Systematic review.
Search methods: MEDLINE (OVIDSP, 1948-2012), EMBASE (OVIDSP, 1980-2012), Evidence Based Medicine Reviews (OVIDSP, 2012) and references of included papers were searched. Major search terms included GPs, recruitment strategies, response rates, and randomised controlled trials (RCT).
Selection criteria: Cluster RCTs, RCTs and factorial trial designs that evaluate recruitment strategies aimed at increasing GP survey response rates.
Data collection and analysis: Abstracts identified by the search strategy were reviewed and relevant articles were retrieved. Each full-text publication was examined to determine whether it met the predetermined inclusion criteria. Data extraction and study quality was assessed by using predetermined checklists.
Results: Monetary and nonmonetary incentives were more effective than no incentive with monetary incentives having a slightly bigger effect than nonmonetary incentives. Large incentives were more effective than small incentives, as were upfront monetary incentives compared to promised monetary incentives. Postal surveys were more effective than telephone or email surveys. One study demonstrated that sequentially mixed mode (online survey followed by a paper survey with a reminder) was more effective than an online survey or the combination of an online and paper survey sent similtaneously in the first mail out. Pre-contact with a phonecall from a peer, personalised packages, sending mail on Friday, and using registered mail also increased response rates in single studies. Pre-contact by letter or postcard almost reached statistical signficance.
Conclusions: GP survey response rates may improve by using the following strategies: monetary and nonmonetary incentives, larger incentives, upfront monetary incentives, postal surveys, pre-contact with a phonecall from a peer, personalised packages, sending mail on Friday, and using registered mail. Mail pre-contact may also improve response rates and have low costs. Improved reporting and further trials, including sequential mixed mode trials and social media, are required to determine the effectiveness of recruitment strategies on GPs' response rates to surveys.