Qualitative research is designed to identify the thoughts and experiences of individuals being studied in relation to a specific query. These findings are sorted, analyzed and presented to identify commonalities among members of the study group. While qualitative studies are not statistically driven like quantitative studies, they offer distinctive benefits.
Within a healthcare setting, qualitative research can aim to identify what matters most to patients and how their experience can be improved. Improving patient care must be an ongoing goal among health service providers. Qualitative data plays a pivotal role in supporting this continual improvement through the collection and interpretation of patient perspectives.
What Is Qualitative Research?
Qualitative research collects the perspectives of individuals and seeks to draw conclusions from the sample group being studied. Qualitative data collection methods include interviews, focus groups and observation. Interviews allow the patient partners to provide detailed information about their experiences.1 Both qualitative and quantitative research can be beneficial for generating new insights. Researchers must determine their end goal to help them decide which format to use.
Challenges in Qualitative Research
While qualitative research provides necessary information for various research goals, this approach does involve some difficulties. It places a significant burden on the researchers and their ability to interview, observe, document and interpret the data. Therefore, the results may inherently be somewhat subjective.
Some additional challenges associated with qualitative studies in healthcare include:
- Patient involvement: Patients must be considered throughout the study, including their privacy and level of involvement. Researchers must be wary of eliciting their involvement without listening to their suggestions or concerns. If the patients are not adequately heard, they may experience their participation as merely symbolic — an experience referred to as “tokenism.”1
- Relevant study groups: Researchers must ensure that the participants accurately represent the patient population that will be affected by the study, including its diversity. The study must have credibility and transferability. In essence, the patients involved should have experiences similar to those of other patients in similar contexts. This supports the translation of findings from the study group to the larger patient group.
- Relevant outcomes: A qualitative study must result in knowledge that supports actionable outcomes. A qualitative study has far less impact if its outcomes lack relevance to the patient population.
Why Qualitative Research Is Important in Healthcare
Despite the inherent difficulties of qualitative research, the outcomes of these studies are necessary to increase patient care and patient satisfaction. Patients in a study must be seen as partners in research. Their experiences must be appropriately documented and analyzed to provide high-quality findings. The benefits of qualitative research in healthcare include:2
- Firsthand 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 conducted can provide a base of knowledge from which to determine avenues of growth or change. While quantitative research provides a statistical base of correlative or casual data, qualitative research provides highly detailed, personal accounts of individual experiences. A comprehensive description of the research method and participant demographics also helps subsequent researchers recreate or expand on the research conducted.
Is Qualitative Research Reliable?
The subjective nature of data collection in qualitative research may raise the question of reliability. A quantitative researcher uses multiple-choice surveys or highly structured data analysis to compile information. In contrast, qualitative data depends substantially on the researcher’s interpretation of the experiences of the patient partners. Still, there are many ways to enhance the reliability of qualitative data.
Researchers may wish to use “member checking” to preserve the integrity of their research.1 As interviews are being conducted and analyzed, a member of the research team connects with interviewees to verify that the researcher is interpreting the interviews correctly.
Implementing Qualitative Research in Healthcare
Qualitative research in healthcare should be used to inform healthcare professionals and providers as they make policies and implement organizational change. The findings can also be used to influence health policy beyond the hospital and primary care level. In fact, as qualitative research expands, the content can be used to influence local and national health policy.3
Consider earning a qualitative EdD in Healthcare Administration or a qualitative EdD in Organizational Leadership and Organizational Development from Grand Canyon University. The College of Doctoral Studies at GCU gives doctoral learners the flexibility and resources to achieve their goals. To learn more about GCU’s doctoral programs, click on the Request More Information button at the top of this page.
1Biomedical Central, Research Involvement and Engagement, Using qualitative Health Research methods to improve patient and public involvement and engagement in research in May 2021
2BJM Journals, BJM Quality and Safety, Qualitative methods in research on healthcare quality in May 2021
3Nursing Times, Understanding qualitative research and its value in healthcare, May 2021
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.