Sampling 'hard-to-reach' populations in health research: yield from a study targeting Americans living in Canada
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BACKGROUND: Some populations targeted in survey research can be hard to reach, either because of lack of contact information, or non-existent databases to inform sampling. Here, we present a methodological "case-report" of the yield of a multi-step survey study assessing views on health care among American emigres to Canada, a hard-to-reach population. METHODS: To sample this hard-to-reach population, we held a live media conference, supplemented by a nation-wide media release announcing the study. We prepared an 'op-ed' piece describing the study and how to participate. We paid for advertisements in 6 newspapers. We sent the survey information to targeted organizations. And lastly, we asked those who completed the web survey to send the information to others. We use descriptive statistics to document the method's yield. RESULTS: The combined media strategies led to 4 television news interviews, 10 newspaper stories, 1 editorial and 2 radio interviews. 458 unique individuals accessed the on-line survey, among whom 310 eligible subjects provided responses to the key study questions. Fifty-six percent reported that they became aware of the survey via media outlets, 26% by word of mouth, and 9% through both the media and word of mouth. CONCLUSION: Our multi-step communication method yielded a sufficient sample of Americans living in Canada. This combination of paid and unpaid media exposure can be considered by others as a unique methodological approach to identifying and sampling hard-to-reach populations.
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