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Editors and Researchers Beware: Calculating Response Rates in Random Digit Dial Health Surveys


Address correspondence to Grant R. Martsolf, R.N., M.P.H., Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University, Department of Health Policy and Administration, U.S. Steel Tower, 9th Floor, 600 Grant Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15219; e-mail:



To demonstrate that different approaches to handling cases of unknown eligibility in random digit dial health surveys can contribute to significant differences in response rates.

Data Source

Primary survey data of individuals with chronic disease.

Study Design

We computed response rates using various approaches, each of which make different assumptions about the disposition of cases of unknown eligibility.

Data Collection

Data were collected via telephone interviews as part of the Aligning Forces for Quality (AF4Q) consumer survey, a representative survey of adults with chronic illnesses in 17 communities and nationally.

Principal Findings

We found that various approaches to estimating eligibility rates can lead to substantially different response rates.


Health services researchers must consider strategies to standardize response rate reporting, enter into a dialog related to why response rate reporting is important, and begin to utilize alternate methods for demonstrating that survey data are valid and reliable.