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Open Access Research article

Inter-method reliability of paper surveys and computer assisted telephone interviews in a randomized controlled trial of yoga for low back pain

Christian J Cerrada15*, Janice Weinberg2, Karen J Sherman34 and Robert B Saper1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Family Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center, 1 Boston Medical Center Place, Dowling 5 South, Boston, MA 02118, USA

2 Department of Biostatistics, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02118, USA

3 Group Health Research Institute, Group Health Cooperative, Seattle, WA 98112, USA

4 Department of Epidemiology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA

5 Department of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, 2001 N Soto Street, 3rd Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90032, USA

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BMC Research Notes 2014, 7:227  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-7-227

Published: 9 April 2014



Little is known about the reliability of different methods of survey administration in low back pain trials. This analysis was designed to determine the reliability of responses to self-administered paper surveys compared to computer assisted telephone interviews (CATI) for the primary outcomes of pain intensity and back-related function, and secondary outcomes of patient satisfaction, SF-36, and global improvement among participants enrolled in a study of yoga for chronic low back pain.


Pain intensity, back-related function, and both physical and mental health components of the SF-36 showed excellent reliability at all three time points; ICC scores ranged from 0.82 to 0.98. Pain medication use showed good reliability; kappa statistics ranged from 0.68 to 0.78. Patient satisfaction had moderate to excellent reliability; ICC scores ranged from 0.40 to 0.86. Global improvement showed poor reliability at 6 weeks (ICC = 0.24) and 12 weeks (ICC = 0.10).


CATI shows excellent reliability for primary outcomes and at least some secondary outcomes when compared to self-administered paper surveys in a low back pain yoga trial. Having two reliable options for data collection may be helpful to increase response rates for core outcomes in back pain trials.

Trial registration NCT01761617. Date of trial registration: December 4, 2012.

Survey methods; Reliability; Back pain; CATI