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Randomized Trial of $20 Versus $50 Incentives to Increase Physician Survey Response Rates

Keating, Nancy L. MD, MPH*†; Zaslavsky, Alan M. PhD; Goldstein, Judy BS; West, Dee W. PhD; Ayanian, John Z. MD, MPP*†

doi: 10.1097/MLR.0b013e318178eb1d
Brief Report

Background: Recent experiences of survey researchers suggest that physicians are becoming less willing to complete surveys.

Objective: To compare response rates to a mailed physician survey with a prepaid check incentive of $20 versus $50.

Research Design: Randomized controlled trial.

Subjects: Five hundred seventy-eight physicians caring for patients with lung or colorectal cancer in northern California.

Measures: Proportion of physicians responding to the survey.

Results: Overall, 60.0% of physicians responded to the survey. The response rate was 52.1% for physicians who received a $20 check versus 67.8% for physicians who received a $50 check (P < 0.001). Similar differences in response rates were seen in strata by physician sex, year graduated from medical school, and survey version (all P < 0.001). More than 42% of physicians who received a $50 check responded to the first mailing, compared with only 30.8% of those who received a $20 check (P < 0.001).

Conclusions: Among physicians caring for patients with lung cancer or colorectal cancer in northern California, a $50 check incentive was much more effective than a $20 check incentive at increasing response rates to a mailed survey. As physicians become increasingly burdened with surveys, larger incentives may be necessary to engage potential respondents and thus maximize response rates.

From the *Division of General Internal Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts; †Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts; and ‡Northern California Cancer Center, Fremont, California.

Supported by the National Cancer Institute Grant U01 CA93324 through the Cancer Care Outcomes Research and Surveillance (CanCORS) Consortium.

Reprints: Nancy L. Keating, MD, MPH, Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, 180 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115. E-mail: keating@hcp.med.harvard.edu.

© 2008 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.