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Open Access Research article

Recruiting and retaining GPs and patients in intervention studies: the DEPS-GP project as a case study

Michelle K Williamson1*, Jane Pirkis1, Jon J Pfaff2, Orla Tyson2, Moira Sim3, Ngaire Kerse4, Nicola T Lautenschlager2, Nigel P Stocks5 and Osvaldo P Almeida2

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Health Policy, Programs and Economics, School of Population Health, University of Melbourne, Australia

2 WA Centre for Health and Ageing, School of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, University of Western Australia & Royal Perth Hospital, Australia

3 School of Nursing, Midwifery and Postgraduate Medicine, Edith Cowan University, Australia

4 Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Auckland, New Zealand

5 Discipline of General Practice, University of Adelaide, Australia

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2007, 7:42  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-7-42

Published: 18 September 2007

Abstract

Background

Recruiting and retaining GPs for research can prove difficult, and may result in sub-optimal patient participation where GPs are required to recruit patients. Low participation rates may affect the validity of research.

This paper describes a multi-faceted approach to maximise participation of GPs and their patients in intervention studies, using an Australian randomised controlled trial of a depression/suicidality management intervention as a case study. The paper aims to outline experiences that may be of interest to others considering engaging GPs and/or their patients in primary care studies.

Methods

A case study approach is used to describe strategies for: (a) recruiting GPs; (b) encouraging GPs to recruit patients to complete a postal questionnaire; and (c) encouraging GPs to recruit patients as part of a practice audit. Participant retention strategies are discussed in light of reasons for withdrawal.

Results

The strategies described, led to the recruitment of a higher than expected number of GPs (n = 772). Three hundred and eighty three GPs (49.6%) followed through with the intent to participate by sending out a total of 77,820 postal questionnaires, 22,251 (28.6%) of which were returned. Three hundred and three GPs (37.0%) participated in the practice audit, which aimed to recruit 20 patients per participating GP (i.e., a total of 6,060 older adults). In total, 5,143 patients (84.9%) were represented in the audit.

Conclusion

Inexpensive methods were chosen to identify and recruit GPs; these relied on an existing database, minor promotion and a letter of invitation. Anecdotally, participating GPs agreed to be involved because they had an interest in the topic, believed the study would not impinge too greatly on their time, and appreciated the professional recognition afforded by the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points associated with study participation. The study team established a strong rapport with GPs and their reception staff, offered clear instructions, and were as flexible and helpful as possible to retain GP participants. Nonetheless, we experienced attrition due to GPs' competing demands, eligibility, personnel issues and the perceived impact of the study on patients. A summary of effective and ineffective methods for recruitment and retention is provided.