Skip to main content

Qualitative Methods for Health Research

Qualitative Methods for Health Research
Geva Greenfield, Agnieszska Ignatowicz & Jessica D. Jones Nielsen (NIHR Research Design Service, Department of Primary Care & Public Health, Imperial College London)

What is qualitative research? 
Qualitative research allows researchers to investigate phenomenon by broadening and deepening their understanding through description and is used by a variety of disciplines. The strength of qualitative research lies in its ability to provide information about the “human” side of any issue – that is, it seeks to discover the meanings that participants attach to their behaviour, how they interpret and experience situations, and what their views are on particular issues. This methodology has received increasing recognition in health research as it focuses on how patients interpret and describe their experiences and captures their perspectives of healthcare.

What kind of topics can qualitative health research address?

A qualitative study exploring self-care coping strategies in patients with diabetes 
In this wholly qualitative study, researchers could use interviews or focus groups with a wide range of patients to explore their experiences of diabetes self-care, with particular reference to the burden of self-care and coping strategies. Findings from this study could help researchers to inform content and design of a larger quantitative questionnaire study, and to quantify whether most patients share these experiences. By studying patients’ experiences in-depth, researchers can be confident that they ask patients about issues that are important to them in the larger quantitative study, and capture the full range of diabetes self-care behaviours.

A mixed methods study to explore the reasons why physiotherapy patients with asthma do not do their prescribed exercises 
Researchers may already have good evidence of the reasons why physiotherapy patients do not do their prescribed exercises in general, but evidence may be lacking in this patient group. They could use a mixed design to help confirm findings, generate more complete data for asthma patients or use results from one method to enhance findings from the other. For instance, researchers could use a structured questionnaire to ask participants about factors inhibiting them from exercising. Findings from this component could then be followed up with in-depth interviews, which would allow researchers to gain a more detailed patient perspective, and ultimately help to modify the exercise plans to fit the unique experience of asthma patients.

A feasibility study for a trial 
Qualitative research is used increasingly alongside trials to explore processes, contextual factors, or intervention characteristics that may have influenced the outcomes. For instance, researchers could use interviews with patients to identify the needs of a target population and/ or acceptable ways to implement the intervention. Post intervention, they could consider focus groups to explore and enhance their understanding of research participants who dropped out or did not adhere to the intervention. Used alongside trials, qualitative research can also shed light on the results of systematic reviews of effectiveness by looking for factors that can help explain heterogeneous results across trials.

How can we help? 
Whether from a stand-alone qualitative study or as part of mixed methods research, qualitative data can help to better understand the phenomenon under investigation and strengthen the application for funding. RDS London has specialist qualitative advisers who can help researcher design and describe qualitative research.


Popular posts from this blog

Introducing the WATCCH Project - Widening Access to Careers in Community Healthcare

The Undergraduate Primary Care Education team in the Department of Primary Care and Public Health at Imperial College London has kicked off an exciting new work experience programme called WATCCH – Widening Access to Careers in Community Healthcare.
There is a shortage of work experience in the health sector for pupils, particularly for those who have no connection to healthcare professionals. WATCCH aims to open up work experience opportunities in the healthcare sector by offering placements for sixth form pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to shadow various allied healthcare professionals in general practices. These 16/17 year olds have completed their GCSEs with good grades, do not have placements elsewhere, and are the first in their family applying to university. 
Pupils will attend a pre-placement induction at Imperial College's Charing Cross Hospital Campus, and will then have a 3-day work experience session at a general practice where they will observe a variety of allie…

Say hello, wave goodbye...

Our GP Derm and Paeds Course Lead Dr Emma Metters sadly left us this month to take a new post at St George's. She reflects on her time at Imperial below:
My time as GP Derm and Paeds Course Lead has come to an end but the good news is the wonderful Senita Mountjoy is returning from her maternity leave to take up the post again.  She brings so much energy and enthusiasm for the courses that she was instrumental in the design of initial delivery of.  I am sure she has many ideas of where she wants to take them so watch this space for new and exciting teaching developments on the horizon.
This is not really goodbye as I will be continuing my involvement in Imperial in various ways so may well cross paths with some of you again.  I have really enjoyed my time at Imperial, in several different roles, and have gained a wealth of experience which I will be taking with me to my new role as Clinical Lecturer in Primary Care at St George’s University. 
I hope many of you continue your invo…

Year 3 MICA (Medicine in the Community Apprenticeship) course update

The year 3 Medicine in the Community Apprenticeship pilot year is drawing to a close and the new cohort of 150 students have been selected and are ready and poised to start phase 2 in September 2017!
Our wonderful tutors have done an excellent job hosting students for 10 weeks at their surgeries. We have really seen our students thrive during this attachment. We have realised the value in giving the students true authentic roles where they begin seeing their own patients in clinic by week 3 and follow up their own patient case loads throughout. The student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and they have really enjoyed feeling like integral members of the team.
Not only have we had involvement from excellent GP tutors, we have also had many specialists and other GPs hosting our students for their experience and clinical skills sessions. We are excited to be using more hospital sites and GP services to help us next term.
We would like to thank all the faculty involved in developing…