Review of retention strategies in longitudinal studies and application to follow-up of ICU survivors

Catherine M. Tansey, Andrea L. Matté, Dale Needham, Margaret S. Herridge

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Objective: To review the literature on retention strategies in follow-up studies and their relevance to critical care and to comment on the Toronto experience with the acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) follow-up studies. Design and setting: Literature review and two cohort studies in a tertiary care hospital in Toronto, Canada. Patients and participants: ARDS and SARS patients. Measurements and results: Review articles from the social sciences and medicine are summarized and our own experience with two longitudinal studies is drawn upon to elucidate strategies that can be successfully used to attenuate participant drop-out from longitudinal studies. Three key areas for retention of subjects are identified from the literature: (a) respect for patients: respect for their ideas and their time commitment to the research project; (b) tracking: collect information on many patient contacts at the initiation of the study and outline tracking procedures for subjects lost to follow-up; and (c) study personnel: interpersonal skills must be reinforced, flexible working hours mandated, and support offered. Our 5-year ARDS and 1-year SARS study retention rates were 86% and 91%, respectively, using these methods. Conclusions: Strategies to reduce patient attrition are time consuming but necessary to preserve internal and external validity. When the follow-up system is working effectively, researchers can acquire the necessary data to advance knowledge in their field and patients are satisfied that they have an important role to play in the research project.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2051-2057
Number of pages7
JournalIntensive Care Medicine
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2007


  • Critical care
  • Epidemiological studies
  • Intensive care
  • Patient dropouts
  • Patient participation
  • Retention of subjects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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