Open Access Short Report

Methods used for successful follow-up in a large scale national cohort study in Thailand

Sam-ang Seubsman1, Matthew Kelly2*, Adrian Sleigh2, Janya Peungson1, Jaruwan Chokkanapitak1 and Duangkae Vilainerun1

Author Affiliations

1 Thai Health Promotion Centre, Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, Nonthaburi, Thailand

2 National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:166  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-166

Published: 27 May 2011

Abstract

Background

Ensuring successful follow-up is essential when conducting a prospective cohort study. Most existing literature reviewing methods to ensure a high response rate is based on experience in developed nations.

Findings

We report our 4-year follow-up success for a national cohort study examining the health transition underway in Thailand. We began the cohort study in 2005 with a baseline postal questionnaire sent to all 200,000 Thais enrolled as distance learning students at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University and residing all over Thailand; 87,134 or 44% of the students responded. Subsequently we used University and national media to inform cohort members of study progress. Also, we prepared a health book with study results and health advice which was distributed to all cohort members. After 4 years we repeated the survey and achieved a 71% response rate. In this paper we report the methods used to achieve this response

The initial follow-up mail-out generated a response rate of about 48% reflecting the extensive preparatory work between baseline and follow-up. After 4 rounds of telephone contact (more than 100,000 phone calls) and 4 related mail-out rounds progressively over 16 months an overall response rate was achieved of just over 71% (n = 60,774). The total cost was US$4.06/respondent - 19% for printing, 21% for postage, 14% for tape measures (included in mail-out), 18% for data processing 22% for prizes and 6% for telephone.

Conclusions

Many of the methods reported as effective for mail questionnaire and cohort response rates held true for Thailand. These included being associated with a university, incentivating cooperation, follow-up contact, providing a second copy of questionnaire where necessary, and assurance of confidentiality. Telephone contact with the cohort and the small prizes given to responders were particularly important in the Thai context as was Thai leadership of the research team.