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The Medical Literature
July 19, 2000

Users' Guides to the Medical Literature: XXIII. Qualitative Research in Health Care
A. Are the Results of the Study Valid?

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics (Drs Giacomini and Cook), Centre for Health Economics and Policy Analysis (Dr Giacomini), Department of Medicine, Divisions of General Medicine and Critical Care for the Evidence-Based Medicine Working Group (Dr Cook), McMaster University, Faculty of Health Sciences, Hamilton, Ontario.


Users' Guides to the Medical Literature Section Editor: Drummond Rennie, MD, Deputy Editor.

JAMA. 2000;284(3):357-362. doi:10.1001/jama.284.3.357

Quantitative research is designed to test well-specified hypotheses, determine whether an intervention did more harm than good, and find out how much a risk factor predisposes persons to disease. Equally important, qualitative research offers insight into emotional and experiential phenomena in health care to determine what, how, and why. There are 4 essential aspects of qualitative analysis. First, the participant selection must be well reasoned and their inclusion must be relevant to the research question. Second, the data collection methods must be appropriate for the research objectives and setting. Third, the data collection process, which includes field observation, interviews, and document analysis, must be comprehensive enough to support rich and robust descriptions of the observed events. Fourth, the data must be appropriately analyzed and the findings adequately corroborated by using multiple sources of information, more than 1 investigator to collect and analyze the raw data, member checking to establish whether the participants' viewpoints were adequately interpreted, or by comparison with existing social science theories. Qualitative studies offer an alternative when insight into the research is not well established or when conventional theories seem inadequate.

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