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Assessing the representativeness of physician and patient respondents to a primary care survey using administrative data


Background — QUALICOPC is an international survey of primary care performance. QUALICOPC data have been used in several studies, yet the representativeness of the Canadian QUALICOPC survey is unknown, potentially limiting the generalizability of findings. This study examined the representativeness of QUALICOPC physician and patient respondents in Ontario using health administrative data.

Methods — This representativeness study linked QUALICOPC physician and patient respondents in Ontario to health administrative databases at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. Physician respondents were compared to other physicians in their practice group and all Ontario primary care physicians on demographic and practice characteristics. Patient respondents were compared to other patients rostered to their primary care physicians, patients rostered to their physicians' practice groups, and a random sample of Ontario residents on sociodemographic characteristics, morbidity, and healthcare utilization. Standardized differences were calculated to compare the distribution of characteristics across cohorts.

Results — QUALICOPC physician respondents included a higher proportion of younger, female physicians and Canadian medical graduates compared to other Ontario primary care physicians. A higher proportion of physician respondents practiced in Family Health Team models, compared to the provincial proportion for primary care physicians. QUALICOPC patient respondents were more likely to be older and female, with significantly higher levels of morbidity and healthcare utilization, compared with the other patient groups examined. However, when looking at the QUALICOPC physicians' whole rosters, rather than just the patient survey respondents, the practice profiles were similar to those of the other physicians in their practice groups and Ontario patients in general.

Conclusions — Comparisons revealed some differences in responding physicians' demographic and practice characteristics, as well as differences in responding patients' characteristics compared to the other patient groups tested, which may have resulted from the visit-based sampling strategy. Ontario QUALICOPC physicians had similar practice profiles as compared to non-participating physicians, providing some evidence that the participating practices are representative of other non-participating practices, and patients selected by visit-based sampling may also be representative of visiting patients in other practices. Those using QUALICOPC data should understand this limited representativeness when generalizing results, and consider the potential for bias in their analyses.



Li A, Cronin S, Bai YQ, Walker K, Ammi M, Hogg W, Wong ST, Wodchis WP. BMC Fam Pract. 2018; 19(1):77. Epub 2018 May 30.

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