BMC Medical Research Methodology
School of Medical and Health Sciences
Edith Cowan University - Open Access Support Scheme
Longitudinal cohort studies have made significant contributions to medical discoveries and provide the impetus for health interventions which reduce the risk of disease. Establishing and maintaining these cohorts is challenging and costly. While some attrition is unavoidable, maintaining a sufficient number of participants ensures that results remain representative and free from bias. Numerous studies have investigated ways to reduce attrition but few studies have sought to understand the experience of participants, and none have examined this through a social marketing framework. This first paper in a two part-series describes participants’ experiences according to: benefits, barriers, motivators and influencers. The second paper uses this understanding to address issues relating to the 4Ps (product, price, place, promotion) of social marketing.
Participants were recruited from the Raine Study, a pregnancy cohort study that has been running in Western Australia since 1989. Qualitative interviews were conducted with 29 active and inactive participants from the Generation 2 cohort, who were originally enrolled in the Raine Study at birth by their parents (Generation 1). ‘Active’ participants (n = 17) were defined as those who agreed to attend their 27 year follow-up, while ‘inactive’ (n = 12) participants were defined as those who had not attended either of the past two follow-ups (at 22 and 27 years).
There were considerable differences between active and inactive participants, with active participants perceiving far more personal and collective benefits from their participation. Inactive participants described being constrained by structural barriers around work and life, whereas active participants were able to overcome them to attend follow-ups. Inactive participants also described the value of extrinsic incentives which might motivate their attendance, and active participants described the role of their parents as significant influencers in their propensity to remain in the study.
This paper provides rich descriptions of what participation in a long-running study means to participants. Use of a social marketing framework ensured that participants were constructed as ‘human consumers’ who are influenced by individual and broader social systems. Understanding participants in this way means that differentiated strategies can be tailored to enhance retention.
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