Public health surveillance systems suffer from insufficient inclusion of American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) populations. These health surveys have also gravitated to telephone administration because of the rising cost of face-to-face interviewing. Several studies have demonstrated that telephone surveys underrepresent people with low incomes, less educational attainment, and minorities. This study assessed the impact of administration mode upon survey participation in rural AI/AN tribes.
Using a modified Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System instrument, the Albuquerque Area Southwest Tribal Epidemiology Center partnered with 3 tribes to administer the survey to a target population of 900 AI/AN adults. Half of the sample was assigned to telephone survey administration and the other half was surveyed in-person by trained community interviewers. Significance testing was performed to assess differences in response rates, demographic characteristics, and costs by survey administration type.
Several notable differences between the survey administration modes were observed. In-person administration yielded a higher response rate (68.8%) than the telephone survey (35.7%). Likewise, in-person participants were, on average, younger and had lower household incomes and educational attainment than those who completed the survey via telephone. In-person survey administration was also slightly more cost-effective than telephone administration ($192 vs $211 per completed survey) due to the low response rate of telephone administration.
The findings from this study have important implications for public health surveillance with rural AI/AN populations, where telephone survey administration is unlikely to yield sufficient coverage of this underserved population. This discovery is particularly disconcerting, given the fact that face-to-face interviewing has largely been replaced by telephone interviewing (and increasingly mobile phones) for public health surveillance in the United States. Without change and innovation, the AI/AN population will continue to lack meaningful health data, further challenging capacity to document and address persistent disparities and inequities witnessed among AI/ANs nationwide.