The effect of two lottery-style incentives on response rates to postal questionnaires in a prospective cohort study in preschool children at high risk of asthma: a randomized trial
1 Department of General Practice, Academic Medical Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
2 Department of General Practice, Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
3 Department of Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, USA
BMC Medical Research Methodology 2012, 12:186 doi:10.1186/1471-2288-12-186Published: 18 December 2012
In research with long-term follow-up and repeated measurements, quick and complete response to questionnaires helps ensure a study’s validity, precision and efficiency. Evidence on the effect of non-monetary incentives on response rates in observational longitudinal research is scarce.
To study the impact of two strategies to enhance completeness and efficiency in observational cohort studies with follow-up durations of around 2 years.
Method and intervention
In a factorial design, 771 children between 2 and 5 years old and their parents participating in a prospective cohort study were randomized to three intervention groups and a control group. Three types of lotteries were run: (i) daytrip tickets for the whole family to a popular amusement park if they returned all postal questionnaires, (ii) €12.50-worth gift vouchers for sending back the questionnaire on time after each questionnaire round and (iii) a combination of (i) and (ii).
Main outcome measures
Primary outcome was the proportion of participants who returned all questionnaires without any reminder. Secondary outcomes were ‘100% returned with or without reminder’, ‘probability of 100% non-response’, ‘probability of withdrawal’, ‘proportion of returned questionnaires’ and ‘overall number of reminders sent’.
After testing for interaction between the two lottery interventions, the two trials were analysed separately. We calculated risk differences (RD) and numbers needed to “treat” and their 95% confidence intervals.
Daytrip nor voucher intervention had an effect on the proportion of participants who returned all questionnaires (RD −0.01; 95% CI-0.07 – 0.06) and (RD 0.02; 95% CI-0.50 – 0.08), respectively. No effects were found on the secondary outcomes.
Our findings do not support the idea that lottery-style incentives lead to more complete response to postal questionnaires in observational cohort studies with repeated data collection and follow-up durations of around 2 years.