Objectives: To define a general methodology for maximising the success of follow-up processes for retrospective cohort studies in New Zealand, and to illustrate an approach to developing country-specific follow-up methodologies.
Methods: We recently conducted a cohort study of mortality and cancer incidence in New Zealand professional fire fighters. A number of methods were used to trace vital status, including matching with records of the New Zealand Health Information Service (NZHIS), pension records of Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ), and electronic electoral rolls. Non-electronic methods included use of paper electoral rolls and the records of the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages.
Results: 95% of the theoretical person-years of follow-up of the cohort were traced using these methods. In terms of numbers of cohort members traced to end of follow-up, the most useful tracing methods were fire fighter employment records, the NZHIS, WINZ, and the electronic electoral rolls.
Conclusions: The follow-up process used for the cohort study was highly successful. On the basis of this experience, we propose a generic, but flexible, model for follow-up of retrospective cohort studies in New Zealand. Similar models could be constructed for other countries.
Implications: Successful follow-up of cohort studies is possible in New Zealand using established methods. This should encourage the use of cohort studies for the investigation of epidemiological issues. Similar models for follow-up processes could be constructed for other countries.