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Open Access Research article

Can colorectal cancer survivors recall their medications and doctor visits reliably?

Louisa G Gordon124*, Tania Patrao3 and Anna L Hawkes34

Author Affiliations

1 Griffith University, Centre for Applied Health Economics, Griffith Health Institute, University Drive, Meadowbrook, Brisbane, Queensland, 4131, Australia

2 Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Genetics and Population Health Division, PO Royal Brisbane Hospital, Herston, Brisbane, Queensland, 4029, Australia

3 Viertel Centre for Research in Cancer Control, Cancer Council Queensland, Gregory Tce, Spring Hill, Brisbane, Queensland, 4006, Australia

4 School of Public Health, Queensland University of Technology, Kelvin Grove, Brisbane, Queensland, 4059, Australia

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BMC Health Services Research 2012, 12:440  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-440

Published: 2 December 2012



The evidence on the agreement between self-reported health resource use and administrative records is mixed and no gold standard exists. The objective of this study was to assess self-reported general practitioner (GP) and specialist doctor visits, as well as medication use via telephone interview against national insurance administrative data for colorectal cancer survivors.


In a sample of 76 adults recently diagnosed with colorectal cancer, data was abstracted from telephone survey items on GP visits, specialist visits and medication use over the previous six months and compared with data on the same individuals from administrative data. Intraclass correlation coefficients (ICC) were used to assess the reliability of frequency of visits and kappa statistics were derived for four broad categories of medicines used for gastrointestinal conditions, cardiovascular disease, psychological conditions and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Logistic regression was undertaken to assess factors associated with agreement (yes/no) between the two data sources for doctors’ visits.


Good agreement was found for GP visits (ICC 0.62, 95%CI: 0.38, 0.86) and specialist visits (ICC 0.73, 95%CI: 0.56, 0.91) across the two data sources. When costs were assigned to frequencies, mean costs for the two methods were not significantly different over six months. Over-reporting was more common among men and participants with frequent doctor encounters. Large discrepancies between self-reports and administration records were found for broad types of medications used (44% agreement, kappa 0.13).


Self-reported frequency of doctor’s visits using telephone interviews may be a reasonable substitute for administratively recorded data however, medication use by self-report appears to be unreliable. Administrative records are preferable to self-report for health service use in colorectal cancer survivors with high and complex service needs.