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Open Access Research article

Accuracy of responses from postal surveys about continuing medical education and information behavior: experiences from a survey among German diabetologists

Sven Trelle

Author Affiliations

Research Group Medicine/Research Unit Biotechnology, Society, and Environment, University of Hamburg, Germany

BMC Health Services Research 2002, 2:15  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-2-15

Published: 1 August 2002



Postal surveys are a popular instrument for studies about continuing medical education habits. But little is known about the accuracy of responses in such surveys. The objective of this study was to quantify the magnitude of inaccurate responses in a postal survey among physicians.


A sub-analysis of a questionnaire about continuing medical education habits and information management was performed. The five variables used for the quantitative analysis are based on a question about the knowledge of a fictitious technical term and on inconsistencies in contingency tables of answers to logically connected questions.


Response rate was 52%. Non-response bias is possible but seems not very likely since an association between demographic variables and inconsistent responses could not be found. About 10% of responses were inaccurate according to the definition.


It was shown that a sub-analysis of a questionnaire makes a quantification of inaccurate responses in postal surveys possible. This sub-analysis revealed that a notable portion of responses in a postal survey about continuing medical education habits and information management was inaccurate.