The impact of recall periods on reported morbidity and health seeking behavior
Between 2000 and 2002, we followed 1621 individuals in Delhi, India using a combination of weekly and monthly-recall health questionnaires. In 2008, we augmented these data with another 8weeks of surveys during which households were experimentally allocated to surveys with different recall periods in the second half of the survey. We show that the length of the recall period had a large impact on reported morbidity, doctor visits; time spent sick; whether at least one day of work/school was lost due to sickness and; the reported use of self-medication. The effects are more pronounced among the poor than the rich. In one example, differential recall effects across income groups reverse the sign of the gradient between doctor visits and per-capita expenditures such that the poor use health care providers more than the rich in the weekly recall surveys but less in monthly recall surveys. We hypothesize that illnesses – especially among the poor – are no longer perceived as “extraordinary events” but have become part of “normal” life. We discuss the implications of these results for health survey methodology, and the economic interpretation of sickness in poor populations.
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