Pre-notification letter type and response rate to a postal survey among women who have recently given birth

28 July 2016

Background: Surveys are commonly used in health research to assess patient satisfaction with hospital care. Achieving an adequate response rate, in the face of declining trends over time, threatens the quality and reliability of survey results. This paper reports on a postal satisfaction survey conducted with women who had recently given birth, and explores the effect of two strategies on response rates. Methods: A sample of 2048 Australian women who had recently given birth were invited to participate in a postal survey about their recent experiences with maternity care. The study design included two different strategies intended to increase response rates: a randomised controlled trial testing two types of pre-notification letter (with or without the option of opting out of the survey), and a request for consent to link survey data with existing routinely collected health data (omitting the latter data items from the survey reduced survey length and participant burden). Results: The survey had an overall response rate of 46%. Women receiving the pre-notification letter with the option of opting out of the survey were more likely to actively decline to participate than women receiving the letter without this option, although the overall numbers of women were small (27 versus 12). Letter type was not significantly associated with the return of a completed survey. Among women who completed the survey, 97% gave consent to link their survey data with existing health data. Conclusions: Seeking consent for record linkage was highly acceptable to women who completed the survey, and represents an important strategy to add to the arsenal for designing and implementing effective surveys. In addition to aspects of survey design, future research should explore how to more effectively influence personal constructs that contribute to the decision to participate in surveys.