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Assessing inner-city patients' hospital experiences. A controlled trial of telephone interviews versus mailed surveys.

Harris LE, Weinberger M, Tierney WM. Assessing inner-city patients' hospital experiences. A controlled trial of telephone interviews versus mailed surveys. Medical care. 1997 Jan 1; 35(1):70-6.

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OBJECTIVES: Obtaining accurate and representative patient-centered data may be difficult among poor, inner-city patients because of changing addresses, variable access to telephones, and a higher prevalence of illiteracy than in the populations in which many survey instruments were developed and tested. Assumptions about the usefulness of mailed surveys versus telephone interviews may not hold for the urban poor. Therefore, identifying the most efficient mode of survey administration in this population becomes an important methodological question. METHODS: We conducted a randomized trial of patients discharged from the inpatient medicine service of an urban teaching hospital to compare telephone interview with mailed self-administration of a detailed instrument for measuring patients' experiences with hospital care. Our primary outcomes were response rate, missing data, and data collection costs. Patients were excluded if they were not discharged to home or were mentally or physically unable to complete mailed or telephone interviews. The research assistant contacted eligible patients while hospitalized, informed them of the postdischarge survey, and obtained current phone numbers and addresses. Patients then were randomized to receive a 116-item satisfaction survey via one of two survey methods: mail-first (mailed surveys with follow-up on nonrespondents by telephone) or telephone-first (telephone interviews with follow-up of nonrespondents by mail). RESULTS: Of the 252 patients enrolled, 130 were randomized to the mail-first and 122 to the telephone-first method. Response rates were higher with the telephone-first (73%) compared with the mail-first method (50%; P < 0.0001). Surveys obtained by the telephone-first method had fewer missing data (0.7 +/- 2.39) for those items not involved in skip patterns compared with the mail-first method (7.1 +/- 12.3; P < 0.001) and were 42% less expensive per completed survey ($26.32 versus $37.35; P < 0.0001). CONCLUSIONS: In this survey of patients served by an urban teaching hospital, a strategy of telephone interviews with mail follow-up proved less expensive and yielded a higher response rate with more complete data than using a method where mailed surveys were followed by back-up telephone interviews. In addition, we believe that the improved response rate for telephone interviews compared with those reported in the literature for similar populations is the result of informing inpatients of the survey and obtaining telephone numbers and addresses in the hospital.

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