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Milbank Q. 1990;68(2):171-89.

Recall strategies and memory for health-care visits.

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  • 1Office of Research and Methodology, National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, MD 20782.


Complex questions in health surveys place heavy cognitive demands on respondents, prompting researchers to appraise how specific cognitive interventions may improve the accuracy of people's answers. Investigators in one experiment asked participants to recall visits to medical providers in forward, backward, or no particular order, and matched results with providers' records. "Free" recall proved marginally superior to forward or backward ordering, although overall respondents underreported the number of visits by 20 percent; participants' gender and self-reported health status, among other factors, also affected quality of recall. The experiment lends support to contentions that the methods of cognitive science applied to survey research better the accuracy of population survey data.

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