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Postal research: too many problems?
  1. S M Bates,
  2. K E Rogstad
  1. Department of GU Medicine, Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield S10 2JF, UK sylvia.bates@csoh.nhs.uk

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    Postal research is a valuable means of collecting health related information. Although the majority of mailed research is in the form of questionnaires, postal services have also been used to report the results of home tests or to obtain clinical specimens.1–7 This approach has been shown to be valuable in certain screening programmes. For example, home testing for glycosuria and subsequent reporting of the results is a simple and effective way of population screening for diabetes mellitus.1 For genitourinary medicine physicians the concept of postal screening may provide an acceptable method of screening low risk populations for certain sexually transmitted infections. A number of studies have already investigated the potential for postal screening for Chlamydia trachomatis infection using mailed specimens including first void urine and vaginal flush samples.3–7

    On the surface, postal research would appear to provide a simple, cost efficient means of reaching a widely dispersed population, many of whom would not normally attend a healthcare setting. However, there are a number of factors that need to be considered in the design of the survey and careful interpretation of the information obtained is essential to ensure the validity of results.

    Response rates

    One of the major problems with mailed research is that response rates tend to be low. Response rates will vary depending on the type of survey and the persistence of the investigators in terms of both the number and type of contacts with the subjects.1,3,8,9

    Higher response rates are seen when repeat mailings are sent to subjects. In their study investigating non-response bias in postal surveys, Tennant and Badley report an 87% response rate after four mailings of the survey.8 The first mailing saw a 57% response, increasing to 73% after the second mailing and 81% after the third. …

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