Thought Leadership

Five Ways to Improve Survey Response Rates Among Physicians

December 13, 2017
Five Ways to Improve Survey Response Rates Among Physicians

When doing health research, physicians are one of the most coveted audiences. The challenges of capturing the attention of physicians are many:

  • Increasing off-hour virtual care appointments
  • Inundation of information and social media
  • Gatekeepers

One of the most common questions we hear clients ask is, “What can we do to improve response rates?” And while there is not one silver bullet, a combination of customized design approaches and best practices do encourage participation among physicians. Based on years of successful studies, Escalent recommends a combination of five approaches and designs to boost response rates and achieve a greater representative mix of participants:

  1. Mode Choice

People like options and physicians are no different. Give them a choice so they can select the mode that best meets their needs. For example, when we have implemented multi-mode options for either web or mail, we have seen response rates improve across audiences. As part of one survey invitation, we can provide multiple format options for the respondent, such as through an enclosed paper survey, a URL for a web-based survey, or even a telephone number. As cited in BioMed Central, “accounting for doctors’ preferences about which survey mode to complete may be important. For example, in a survey of doctors in the United States, paper surveys were preferred to email surveys when they were given the choice, and family physicians preferred mail surveys compared to surgeons. The ability of doctors to choose their preferred mode of response to fit with their busy schedules is likely to be important.”

  1. Invitation Text

And how do you capture their attention and secure participation? The invitation text needs to be professional and concise, and it needs to offer a compelling explanation for why their feedback matters. Engagement improves when the invitation highlights how results are used within the organization for strategic planning or to improve patient quality of care.  You can also offer to share the study results with them.

  • Email invitations: A well-written email invitation reaches audiences faster, which leads to quicker results and maximized budgets. In addition, email gives you the ability to invite a larger audience for expanded reach. Be sure to create an attractive design, using concise language, color and a clear link to participate with support help/desk, if needed
  • Mail invitations: These are more traditional but still relevant. Like email, it’s important to use best practices. Dillman (AAPOR 2008) cites these as including flattering and personalized letters with a sponsored endorsement from the C-suite, sending a pre-notification and reminder mailing(s), and keeping the survey short and concise. Pre-notifications sent on behalf of the research sponsor organization improve awareness, and increases the number of completes after each set of reminders. Color printing may help enhance visual appeal, professionalism and encourage response, though some treatments we tested that were “glitzier,” may have been perceived more as marketing than a research invite.
  1. Smartphone and Device Optimization

Once you’ve captured their attention and willingness to participate, it’s critical to make the survey easy to take regardless of mode. Keep the survey short, well written and interesting to encourage completion. For web-based surveys, it is critical to design the survey to be viewed and answered on any device including a smartphone, tablet or desktop. According to PEW, as of January 2017, 77% of Americans own a smartphone, up from only 35% in 2011, and we know penetration for accessing surveys via devices continues to increase. As a standard protocol, our survey designs are optimized for all devices, and if we use a multi-mode methodology, the format, scale points, grids and content are consistent between modes to prevent potential bias across mode designs. As an example, for a multi-mode design of mail and web, we ensure surveys are comparable in design and format to avoid turning smartphone survey takers away, and we maintain the same treatment across modes to ensure similar and unbiased survey results.

  1. Incentives

To bolster cooperation and participation, consider what’s in it for the physicians. You should provide incentives for their valuable time as part of the invitation. Among published studies involving physicians as respondents, “survey response rates seem to be most influenced by the use of individual monetary incentives…as physicians become increasingly burdened with surveys, studies suggest larger incentives may be necessary to engage potential respondents and thus maximize response rate.” Escalent has also found that offering an honorarium incentive or drawing for cash, a prize or charitable donation encourages participation and improve response rates, albeit nominally. The challenge is that it needs to be meaningful and large enough to be impactful to highly compensated physicians, and even larger for specialists.

  1. Fielding Duration

Finally, as part of the full project research lifecycle, give fielding patience and time to collect feedback. Depending on survey mode, allow adequate time for responses. For example, mail surveys require longer fielding (a minimum of six to eight weeks) than either a phone or web-based survey (just a few weeks), and it’s not unusual to receive a mailed back survey response up to a year after the initial invitation!

To learn more about strategic study design to engage your hard-to-reach audiences, send us a note.

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Special thanks to our sampling, design and weighting methodological experts, JiaoJiao Li and Yumi Kim, for their significant contributions to this blog post.

Jessica Bardsley
Jessica Bardsley
Vice President, Health

Jessica is a former vice president in the Health division at Escalent.