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Mail surveys and telephone interviews can be used to survey Asian Americans with limited English proficiency

The cost of translation services and bilingual personnel recruitment are a consideration when researchers decide whether or not to include minorities, especially those with limited-English proficiency (LEP), in studies of health and health care. Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing groups in the United States, and many of them have a limited ability to speak and understand English. Nevertheless, telephone interviews and mail surveys with phone reminder calls are both feasible options for including these populations in health research surveys, according to a study supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS10316).

These findings differ from findings in previous studies among hard-to-reach populations, which suggest that expensive and labor-intensive methods, such as face-to-face or in-home interviews, are the optimal mode of data collection. For the new study, researchers examined survey response rates and missing data by mode of survey (mail or telephone interview) and language groups. The 78-item survey given to Vietnamese, Mandarin, and Cantonese Chinese patients in their native languages asked about the quality of their health care.

The overall survey response rate was 67 percent of the 479 patients surveyed, which is comparable to the response rate for studies conducted in English-speaking populations. Almost half of the respondents had 9 or fewer years of education, and 83 percent reported that they spoke English not well or not at all. More participants responded to phone interviews (75 percent) than mail surveys with reminder telephone calls (59 percent). The mean number of missing items for the mail survey was 4.14 versus 1.67 for the phone survey. There were no significant differences in missing data among the language groups and no significant differences in scale reliability by survey modes or language groups.

See "Surveying minorities with limited-English proficiency: Does data collection method affect data quality among Asian Americans?" by Quyen Ngo-Metzger, M.D., M.P.H., Sherrie H. Kaplan, Ph.D., M.P.H., Dara H. Sorkin, B.A., and others, in the September 2004 Medical Care 42(9), pp. 893-900.

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