Qualitative research seeks to elicit the thoughts and experiences of those being studied in relation to a specific question. These findings are sorted, analysed, and presented in order to identify commonalities among members of the study group. While qualitative studies are not as statistically driven as quantitative studies, they do have distinct advantages.
In a health sector, qualitative research can be used to determine what is most important to patients and how their experience can be improved. Improving patient care must be a continuous goal for health-care providers. Through the collection and interpretation of patient perspectives, qualitative data plays a critical role in supporting this continual improvement.
What Is Qualitative Research?
Qualitative research gathers individual perspectives and attempts to draw conclusions from the sample group being studied. Interviews, focus groups, and observation are examples of qualitative data collection methods. Patient partners can provide detailed information about their experiences during interviews. Qualitative and quantitative research can both be useful in generating new insights. To decide which format to use, researchers must first determine their end goal.
Challenges in Qualitative Research
While qualitative research is useful for a variety of research objectives, it does have some drawbacks. It significantly limits the researchers’ ability to conduct interviews, observe, document, and interpret data. As a result, the results may be subjective.
Some of the additional challenges associated with qualitative studies in healthcare are as follows:
- Patient involvement: Patients’ privacy and level of involvement must be considered throughout the study. Researchers must be cautious about eliciting their participation before listening to their suggestions or concerns. Patients may interpret their participation as merely symbolic if they are not adequately heard, a phenomenon known as “tokenism.”
- Relevant study groups: Researchers must ensure that the participants accurately represent the patient population affected by the study, including its diversity. The study must be credible and transferable. In essence, the patients involved should have similar experiences to other patients in similar situations. This contributes to the translation of findings from the study group to the larger patient population.
- Relevant outcomes: A qualitative study must generate knowledge that can be used to support actionable results. A qualitative study’s findings will have far less impact if they are unrelated to the patient population.
Qualitative research methods
- Observations: Taking detailed field notes on what you’ve seen, heard, or encountered.
- Interviews: In one-on-one conversations, personally ask people questions.
- Focus groups: asking questions and sparking debate among a group of people
- Surveys: distributing questionnaires with open-ended questions
- Secondary research: acquiring pre-existing data in the form of texts, images, audio or video recordings, etc
Advantages of qualitative research
Qualitative research frequently attempts to preserve the voice and perspective of participants, and it can be adjusted as new research questions emerge. Qualitative research is good for:
The data collection and analysis process can be adapted as new ideas or patterns emerge. They are not rigidly decided beforehand.
- Natural settings
Data is collected in real-world settings or in a naturalistic manner.
- Meaningful insights
Detailed descriptions of people’s experiences, feelings, and perceptions can be used to design, test, or improve systems or products.
- Generation of new ideas
Researchers can discover novel problems or opportunities as a result of open-ended responses that they would not have considered otherwise.
Is Qualitative Research Reliable?
The subjective nature of qualitative data collection may raise concerns about reliability. A quantitative researcher gathers information through multiple-choice surveys or highly structured data analysis. In contrast, qualitative data is heavily reliant on the researcher’s interpretation of the patient partners’ experiences. Nonetheless, there are numerous ways to improve the reliability of qualitative data.
To ensure the integrity of their research, researchers may wish to use “member checking.” While interviews are being conducted and analysed, a member of the research team contacts interviewees to ensure that the researcher is correctly interpreting the interviews.
Why Qualitative Research Is Important in Healthcare
Despite the inherent difficulties of qualitative research, the findings of these studies are critical for improving patient care and satisfaction. Patients in a study must be viewed as research collaborators.Their experiences must be appropriately documented and analysed to provide high-quality findings. The benefits of qualitative research in healthcare include:
- First hand documentation of patient experiences
- An overview of suggestions for improvement
- The ability to detect common concerns and desires associated with the quality of care
- Information about what matters most to patients
- The opportunity to identify obstacles to growth and change
The research can provide a foundation of knowledge from which to identify areas for growth or change. While quantitative research provides a statistical foundation of correlational or incidental data, qualitative research provides highly detailed, personal accounts of individual experiences. A detailed description of the research method and participant demographics also aids subsequent researchers in recreating or expanding on the work done.