Exploring physician specialist response rates to web-based surveys

Ceara Tess Cunningham, Hude Quan, Brenda Hemmelgarn, Tom Noseworthy, Cynthia A. Beck, Elijah Dixon, Susan Samuel, William A. Ghali, Lindsay L. Sykes, Nathalie Jetté

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

612 Scopus citations


Background: Survey research in healthcare is an important tool to collect information about healthcare delivery, service use and overall issues relating to quality of care. Unfortunately, physicians are often a group with low survey response rates and little research has looked at response rates among physician specialists. For these reasons, the purpose of this project was to explore survey response rates among physician specialists in a large metropolitan Canadian city. Methods: As part of a larger project to look at physician payment plans, an online survey about medical billing practices was distributed to 904 physicians from various medical specialties. The primary method for physicians to complete the survey was via the Internet using a well-known and established survey company (www.surveymonkey.com). Multiple methods were used to encourage survey response such as individual personalized email invitations, multiple reminders, and a draw for three gift certificate prizes were used to increase response rate. Descriptive statistics were used to assess response rates and reasons for non-response. Results: Overall survey response rate was 35.0%. Response rates varied by specialty: Neurology/neurosurgery (46.6%); internal medicine (42.9%); general surgery (29.6%); pediatrics (29.2%); and psychiatry (27.1%). Non-respondents listed lack of time/survey burden as the main reason for not responding to our survey. Conclusions: Our survey results provide a look into the challenges of collecting healthcare research where response rates to surveys are often low. The findings presented here should help researchers in planning future survey based studies. Findings from this study and others suggest smaller monetary incentives for each individual may be a more appropriate way to increase response rates.

Original languageEnglish
Article number32
JournalBMC Medical Research Methodology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 9 Apr 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Healthcare
  • Physicians
  • Response rate
  • Specialists
  • Survey methodologies


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