Bias of health estimates obtained from chronic disease and risk factor surveillance systems using telephone population surveys in Australia: Results from a representative face-to-face survey in Australia from 2010 to 2013

Eleonora Dal Grande, Catherine R. Chittleborough, Stefano Campostrini, Anne Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Emerging communication technologies have had an impact on population-based telephone surveys worldwide. Our objective was to examine the potential biases of health estimates in South Australia, a state of Australia, obtained via current landline telephone survey methodologies and to report on the impact of mobile-only household on household surveys. Methods: Data from an annual multi-stage, systematic, clustered area, face-to-face population survey, Health Omnibus Survey (approximately 3000 interviews annually), included questions about telephone ownership to assess the population that were non-contactable by current telephone sampling methods (2006 to 2013). Univariable analyses (2010 to 2013) and trend analyses were conducted for sociodemographic and health indicator variables in relation to telephone status. Relative coverage biases (RCB) of two hypothetical telephone samples was undertaken by examining the prevalence estimates of health status and health risk behaviours (2010 to 2013): directory-listed numbers, consisting mainly of landline telephone numbers and a small proportion of mobile telephone numbers; and a random digit dialling (RDD) sample of landline telephone numbers which excludes mobile-only households. Results: Telephone (landline and mobile) coverage in South Australia is very high (97 %). Mobile telephone ownership increased slightly (7.4 %), rising from 89.7 % in 2006 to 96.3 % in 2013; mobile-only households increased by 431 % over the eight year period from 5.2 % in 2006 to 27.6 % in 2013. Only half of the households have either a mobile or landline number listed in the telephone directory. There were small differences in the prevalence estimates for current asthma, arthritis, diabetes and obesity between the hypothetical telephone samples and the overall sample. However, prevalence estimate for diabetes was slightly underestimated (RCB value of -0.077) in 2013. Mixed RCB results were found for having a mental health condition for both telephone samples. Current smoking prevalence was lower for both hypothetical telephone samples in absolute differences and RCB values: -0.136 to -0.191 for RDD landline samples and -0.129 to -0.313 for directory-listed samples. Conclusion: These findings suggest landline-based sampling frames used in Australia, when appropriately weighted, produce reliable representative estimates for some health indicators but not for all. Researchers need to be aware of their limitations and potential biased estimates.

Original languageEnglish
Article number44
JournalBMC Medical Research Methodology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished or Issued - 2016


  • Bias
  • Chronic conditions
  • Health surveys
  • Public health surveillance
  • Risk factors
  • Sampling frame
  • Telephone sampling methodology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Health Informatics

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