Telephone surveys in public health research

Med Care. 1986 Feb;24(2):97-112. doi: 10.1097/00005650-198602000-00002.


The last 10 years have seen increasing use of telephone surveys in public health research. This paper reviews issues of sampling, data quality, questionnaire development, scheduling of interviewers, respondent burden, interviewer effects, and the use of the computer in telephone interviewing. Throughout, the authors focus on findings from recent research, with particular emphasis on those studies suggesting new advances or protocols for conducting telephone health surveys. The findings of this review suggest four conclusions. First, telephone interviews can be highly recommended for follow-up interviews in panel surveys that use an initial face-to-face interview. Second, telephone surveys can be recommended as a viable alternative to costly face-to-face surveys in cross-sectional studies of the general population. Third, when the focus of the survey is on subgroups of the population that have both low telephone coverage and higher rates of nonresponse (e.g., low income and low education respondents), telephone interviews should be used more cautiously. In these situations, a dual sampling frame approach (using a combination of face-to-face and telephone interviewing) may be considered. Finally, computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) represents one of the most important and innovative technologic advances in health survey research in recent years. The advantages of CATI in improving survey management are noteworthy and ideally suited for moderate- to large-sample surveys. CATI also provides an attractive (and largely untapped) resource for testing and refining other methodologic protocols in survey research.

MeSH terms

  • Computers
  • Data Collection* / standards
  • Health Surveys / methods*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic / methods
  • Public Health*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Telephone*
  • United States