• health services research;
  • Internet;
  • patient participation;
  • primary care;
  • qualitative research;
  • response rate


Rationale  A multidisciplinary primary care clinic in Sydney, Australia, was planning to use electronic questionnaires to measure patient-reported outcomes.

Methods  Semi-structured interviews with 20 patients were undertaken to explore, among other things, practical issues regarding different questionnaire formats. The response rates and costs of email versus postal invitations were also evaluated.

Results  Compared with postal invitations, email invitations offered a cost-effective and practical alternative, with a greater proportion of patients volunteering for an interview. Assuming the interface is well-designed and user-friendly, many patients were happy to use the Internet to answer questionnaires. Most patients thought alternate formats should also be offered. Patients discussed advantages and disadvantages of the Internet format. Although more younger patients and females had given the clinic an email address; both sexes, and young and old patients, expressed strong preferences for either wanting or not wanting to use the Internet.

Conclusion  Researchers should consider using email invitations as a cost-effective first-line strategy to recruit patients to participate in health services research. Internet questionnaires are potentially cheaper than paper questionnaires, and the format is acceptable to many patients. However, for the time being, concurrent alternate formats need to be offered to ensure wider acceptability and to maximize response rates.