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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Non-response in a survey of physicians on end-of-life care for the elderly

Franziska Kühne, Mareike Behmann, Susanne Bisson, Ulla Walter and Nils Schneider*

Author Affiliations

Hannover Medical School, Institute for Epidemiology, Social Medicine and Healthcare Systems Research, Carl-Neuberg-Str.1, 30625 Hannover, Germany

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:367  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-367

Published: 26 September 2011



Physicians are quite often surveyed with the aim to investigate their opinions regarding provision and improvement of health care. However, in many cases response rates tend to be rather low. The aim of the study is to reflect methodological aspects regarding survey conduction and to analyse factors that cause physicians to take part in a study on delivering end-of-life care for the elderly.


N = 4,727 physicians in Lower Saxony, Germany, received a standardised questionnaire on their attitudes about end-of-life care for the elderly. Non-responders were asked to state the reasons for non-participation. Comparison of the sociodemographic characteristics between responders and non-responders, and evaluation of the reasons for non-participation were made.


The response rate to the questionnaire on end-of-life care for the elderly was 40% (n = 1,892). Of the non-responders to the questionnaire, 12.8% (n = 364) stated the reasons for non-participation. Overall, the response rate to the questionnaire varied with specialty and location of the practice: radiotherapists answered significantly more frequently than other categories of physician (e.g. general practitioners) and physicians in rural areas significantly more frequently than their colleagues in urban areas. The reasons most frequently given for non-participation were "Not concerned with the subject" and "No time".


The varying rates of response indicate that the survey was not sufficiently relevant to all groups of physicians, or that the awareness of the topic may be partly underdeveloped.