A randomized trial of mail and email recruitment strategies for a physician survey on clinical trial accrual

Caitlin C. Murphy, Simon J. Craddock Lee, Ann M. Geiger, John V. Cox, Chul Ahn, Rasmi Nair, David E. Gerber, Ethan A. Halm, Katharine McCallister, Celette Sugg Skinner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Patient participation in cancer clinical trials is suboptimal. A challenge to capturing physicians' insights about trials has been low response to surveys. We conducted a study using varying combinations of mail and email to recruit a nationally representative sample of medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists to complete a survey on trial accrual. Methods: We randomly assigned eligible physicians identified from the American Medical Association MasterFile (n = 13,251) to mail-or email-based recruitment strategies. Mail-based recruitment included a survey packet with: (1) cover letter describing the survey and inviting participation; (2) paper copy of the survey and postage-paid return envelope; and (3) a web link for completing the survey online. Email-based recruitment included an e-mail describing the survey and inviting participation, along with the web link to the survey, and a reminder postcard 2 weeks later. Results: Response was higher for mail-based (11.8, 95% CI 11.0-12.6%) vs. email-based (4.5, 95% CI 4.0-5.0%) recruitment. In email-based recruitment, only one-quarter of recipients opened the email, and even fewer clicked on the link to complete the survey. Most physicians in mail-based recruitment responded after the first invitation (362 of 770 responders, 47.0%). A higher proportion of responders vs. non-responders were young (ages 25-44 years), men, and radiation or surgical (vs. medical) oncologists. Conclusions: Most physicians assigned to mail-based recruitment actually completed the survey online via the link provided in the cover letter, and those in email-based recruitment did not respond until they received a reminder postcard by mail. Providing the option to return a paper survey or complete it online may have further increased participation in the mail-based group, and future studies should examine how combinations of delivery mode and return options affect physicians' response to surveys.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number123
JournalBMC Medical Research Methodology
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 19 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Health Informatics


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