Publications & Reports

Recruiting and retaining community-based participants in a COVID-19 longitudinal cohort and social networks study: lessons from Victoria, Australia.

Nguyen T, Thomas AJ, Kerr P, Stewart AC, Wilkinson AL, Nguyen L, Altermatt A, Young K, Heath K, Bowring A, Fletcher-Lartey S, Lusher D, Hill S, Pedrana A, Stoové M, Gibney K, Hellard M
Disease Elimination, Burnet Institute, 85 Commercial Road, Melbourne, VIC, 3004, Australia. [email protected]


BACKGROUND: Longitudinal studies are critical to informing evolving responses to COVID-19 but can be hampered by attrition bias, which undermines their reliability for guiding policy and practice. We describe recruitment and retention in the Optimise Study, a longitudinal cohort and social networks study that aimed to inform public health and policy responses to COVID-19. METHODS: Optimise recruited adults residing in Victoria, Australia September 01 2020-September 30 2021. High-frequency follow-up data collection included nominating social networks for study participation and completing a follow-up survey and four follow-up diaries each month, plus additional surveys if they tested positive for COVID-19 or were a close contact. This study compared number recruited to a-priori targets as of September 302,021, retention as of December 31 2021, comparing participants retained and not retained, and follow-up survey and diary completion October 2020-December 2021. Retained participants completed a follow-up survey or diary in each of the final three-months of their follow-up time. Attrition was defined by the number of participants not retained, divided by the number who completed a baseline survey by September 302,021. Survey completion was calculated as the proportion of follow-up surveys or diaries sent to participants that were completed between October 2020-December 2021. RESULTS: At September 302,021, 663 participants were recruited and at December 312,021, 563 were retained giving an overall attrition of 15% (n = 100/663). Among the 563 retained, survey completion was 90% (n = 19,354/21,524) for follow-up diaries and 89% (n = 4936/5560) for monthly follow-up surveys. Compared to participants not retained, those retained were older (t-test, p < 0.001), and more likely to be female (chi(2), p = 0.001), and tertiary educated (chi(2), p = 0.018). CONCLUSION: High levels of study retention and survey completion demonstrate a willingness to participate in a complex, longitudinal cohort study with high participant burden during a global pandemic. We believe comprehensive follow-up strategies, frequent dissemination of study findings to participants, and unique data collection systems have contributed to high levels of study retention.

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