Recruitment of representative samples in primary care research is essential to ensure high-quality, generalizable results. This is particularly important for research using routinely recorded patient data to examine the delivery of care. Yet little is known about how different recruitment strategies influence the characteristics of the practices included in research.
We describe three approaches for recruiting practices to data-sharing studies, examining differences in recruitment levels and practice representativeness.
We examined three studies that included varying populations of practices from West Yorkshire, UK. All used anonymized patient data to explore aspects of clinical practice. Recruitment strategies were 'opt-in', 'mixed opt-in and opt-out' and 'opt-out'. We compared aggregated practice data between recruited and not-recruited practices for practice list size, deprivation, chronic disease management, patient experience and rates of unplanned hospital admission.
The opt-out strategy had the highest recruitment (80%), followed by mixed (70%) and opt-in (58%). Practices opting-in were larger (median 7153 versus 4722 patients, P = 0.03) than practices that declined to opt-in. Practices recruited by mixed approach were larger (median 7091 versus 5857 patients, P = 0.04) and had differences in the clinical quality measure (58.4% versus 53.9% of diabetic patients with HbA1c ≤ 59 mmol/mol, P < 0.01). We found no differences between practices recruited and not recruited using the opt-out strategy for any demographic or quality of care measures.
Opt-out recruitment appears to be a relatively efficient approach to ensuring participation of typical general practices. Researchers should, with appropriate ethical safeguards, consider opt-out recruitment of practices for studies involving anonymized patient data sharing.
Electronic health records; family practice; primary health care; quality improvement; research design; research subject recruitment.