Qualitative research on health communication: What can it contribute? (2023)

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  • References (34)
  • Cited by (48)
  • Recommended articles (6)

Patient Education and Counseling

Volume 82, Issue 3,

March 2011

, Pages 384-388

Author links open overlay panelNickyBrittenPersonEnvelope

Abstract

Objective

To contribute to the debate about the value of qualitative research in health care by discussing three key issues in relation to qualitative research on health communication.

Methods

As this paper does not report the results of a primary research study or a secondary analysis, no formal search strategy was employed to identify the cited papers; many other published papers would have made the same points just as well.

Results

The key issues are illustrated using a range of published studies drawn from the health care communication literature. The paper describes the range of outputs generated by qualitative research; illustrates different ways in which qualitative and quantitative methods can be combined; and shows the contribution of qualitative syntheses.

Conclusions

Greater conceptual development and explanatory power may be achieved both by more ambitious primary studies and the conduct of more qualitative syntheses. The synthesis of qualitative research also offers the opportunity to build up a cumulative evidence base.

Practice implications

The further development of methods of qualitative synthesis will be enhanced if qualitative researchers place greater emphasis on explanation rather than description; cite each other's work more often and conduct more syntheses; and continue to contribute to mixed methods studies.

(Video) Health education II: Health Communication techniques,Panel vs symposium discussion#NEETPG#FMGE

Introduction

Although the status and acceptability of qualitative research within medical and health services research has changed to an astonishing degree, there remains a debate about its value in health research. Critics are less likely (in public at least) to dismiss qualitative research as ‘anecdotal’ and ‘unscientific’ [1]. Increasingly, randomised controlled trials include qualitative process evaluations [2], funding bodies include qualitative researchers on grant giving committees, and researchers discuss questions about quality appraisal in qualitative research. All this was unimaginable in the early 1990s [3]. However medical research places quantitative evidence much higher up the hierarchy of evidence than qualitative research [4]; this is because questions about the effectiveness of an intervention or treatment are much better addressed by quantitative methods. Within communication research, quantitative measures such as the Roter Interaction Analysis System [5] and the OPTION scale [6] are better established and more widely used than qualitative methods. These measures enable statistical methods to be employed, and quantitative questions to be answered. However, these are not the only questions which matter. My purpose in this article is to contribute to the debate by showing that qualitative research can make particular kinds of contribution to health communication research. These contributions are illustrated by examining the outputs of qualitative research; the combination of qualitative and quantitative research; and the synthesis of qualitative research.

Section snippets

Methods

This is a debate paper which aims to demonstrate the contribution which qualitative research can make to health communication research. In doing so, it adds to the long standing debate about the value of qualitative research [7]. All the references to published studies are for illustrative purposes, and have been chosen on the basis of the author's prior knowledge and the relevance of the papers to this audience of readers. This paper does not report the results of either primary qualitative

Basic introduction into qualitative research

Given that the term ‘qualitative research’ is not always used consistently, it is worth starting with a definition. Green and Thorogood [8] point out that qualitative studies seek answers to questions about the ‘what’, ‘how’ or ‘why’ of a phenomenon rather than questions about ‘how many’ or ‘how much’. Many qualitative studies aim to understand social situations from the point(s) of view of those involved, whether they are the people receiving health services or the professionals delivering

Discussion

This article has contributed to the debate about the value of qualitative research by illustrating its distinctive outputs; the various ways it can be combined with quantitative research; and the comparatively recent development of methods of qualitative synthesis. Although qualitative research is often characterised as providing descriptions of patients’ experiences [34], the challenge for qualitative researchers is to become more ambitious than this. By moving beyond description and

Conflict of interest

I have no conflict of interest in relation to this article.

Role of funding source

Nicky Britten is partially supported by the National Institute of Health Research in the UK.

Acknowledgement

I thank Melanie Neumann for her helpful input as one of the editors of this series.

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  • Cited by (48)

    • The role of linguistics in improving the evidence base of healthcare communication

      2019, Patient Education and Counseling

      The aim of the study is to show how qualitative, linguistic analysis can be purposefully integrated into health communication research, based on the functions and outcomes of medical communication proposed by de Haes and Bensing 2009 [1].

      This article proposes a theoretical framework advancing health communication research and does not present primary research. The cited papers were selected on the basis of their relevance to the current purpose of the study, without the intention of being exhaustive.

      Linguistic and conversation analytic research supports the legitimacy of commonly recommended patient-centered communication skills. However, research that directly relates linguistic analysis to certain functions and outcomes of the medical interview is sparse.

      Integrating linguistics into health communication research enhances the evidence base of healthcare communication and helps to develop effective communication training materials.

      Future research designs should purposefully and directly connect linguistic analysis with the functions and the outcomes of the medical interview.

    • Understanding the interplay of cancer patients’ instrumental concerns and emotions

      2017, Patient Education and Counseling

      Citation Excerpt :

      These gaps may be addressed by qualitatively examining patients’ descriptions of concerns. Such an examination can generate new ideas about the nature of patients’ concerns and inform a theoretical framework [7]. Table 1 provides an overview of how concerns are defined and measured via concern lists and coding manuals.

      1) to assess patients’ descriptions of concerns, and 2) to inform a conceptual framework in which the impact of the nature of concerns on doctor-patient communication is specified.

      Six focus groups were conducted with 39 cancer patients and survivors. In these focus groups participants were asked to describe their concerns during and after their illness.

      Concerns were described as instrumental concerns (e.g., receiving insufficient information) and emotions (e.g., sadness). Patients frequently explained their concerns as an interplay of instrumental concerns and emotions. Examples of the interplay were “receiving incorrect information” and “frustration”, and “difficulties with searching, finding and judging of information” and “fear”.

      Instrumental concerns need to be taken into account in the operationalization of concerns in research. Based on the interplay, the conceptual framework suggests that patients can express instrumental concerns as emotions and emotions as instrumental concerns. Consequently, providers can respond with instrumental and emotional communication when patients express an interplay of concerns.

      The results of this study can be used to support providers in recognizing concerns that are expressed by patients in consultations.

    • An exploration of the extent and nature of reconceptualisation of pain following pain neurophysiology education: A qualitative study of experiences of people with chronic musculoskeletal pain

      2016, Patient Education and Counseling

      Citation Excerpt :

      However, these are partial or indirect measures of reconceptualistaion. Qualitative investigation enables exploration of reconceptualisation in more depth [14–17]. We have previously observed reconceptualisation to be partial and patchy rather than complete; perceived relevance of the information was important for the patient, and reconceptualisation was more apparent when participants talked about pain in general rather than their own pain [18].

      Pain neurophysiology education (PNE), a method of pain education, purports to work by helping patients reconceptualise their pain, shifting from a tissue injury model towards a biopsychosocial understanding related to neural sensitivity. Better understanding of pain reconceptualisation following PNE is needed to improve the delivery of this educational approach to enhance its effectiveness. This study aimed to investigate the extent and nature of reconceptualisation following PNE.

      In a qualitative design, based on Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis, thematic analysis was carried out on individual interviews with 7 adults before and three weeks after receiving PNE at a pain clinic.

      Three themes emerged describing variable degrees of reconceptualisation; prior beliefs as facilitators and barriers to reconceptualisation; and the influence of reconceptualisation on clinical benefits of PNE.

      The results lend support to claims that reconceptualisation is an important mechanism in PNE and justify further investigation of this phenomenon.

      When delivering PNE to patients with chronic pain helping patients to reconceptualise their pain may be key to enhancing the clinical benefits of the intervention. Understanding prior beliefs may be an important step in facilitating reconceptualisation.

    • "It's Part of Me, Not All of Me": Young Women's Experiences of Receiving a Diagnosis Related to Diverse Sex Development

      2016, Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology

      To understand young women's experiences of receiving a diagnosis related to diverse sex development.

      A qualitative narrative analysis of interviews.

      Karolinska University Hospital.

      Nine women (aged 20-26years) with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, XY or XX gonadal dysgenesis.

      (Video) The role of health communication in patient safety and quality of care

      Semistructured interviews.

      A narrative approach was used to analyze the interviews. This involved identification of individual narratives of receiving the diagnosis, as well as identification of key issues that were common across interviews.

      The analysis showed how participants' prediagnosis life experiences framed how medical information was perceived upon diagnosis. All participants had been informed about their condition before the study, but not all remembered the name of their diagnosis. Participants described positive characteristics of health professionals, such as being flexible and able to adapt to patients' individual needs. Clinicians' strategies, such as normalizing patients' experiences, were usually perceived as supportive, but were not always considered helpful. After the diagnosis, participants were worried about potential social, practical, and philosophical issues.

      This research highlighted the importance of clinicians taking an exploratory and individualized approach to the sensitive process of disclosing a diagnosis related to diverse sex development to young adults. There are various strategies health professionals can use that might help young people to develop their knowledge about their condition: (1) repeating information to help the patient remember; (2) using language that is not too medicalized; and (3) communicating in a way that is meaningfully connected to patients' everyday lives.

    • Exploring the role of health literacy in the evaluation of online health information: Insights from a mixed-methods study

      2016, Patient Education and Counseling

      Citation Excerpt :

      In-depth data were collected via semi-structured interviews on awareness of OHI quality and on knowledge and use of evaluation criteria. A qualitative approach was particularly suited to the largely unexplored nature of the topic [25,26]. Quantitative data were collected via standardized questionnaires about health literacy and perceived ability to perform OHI-related tasks.

      To gain new insights into the relationship between health literacy and evaluation of online health information.

      Using a mixed-methods approach, forty-four semi-structured interviews were conducted followed by a short questionnaire on health literacy and eHealth literacy. Qualitative and quantitative data were merged to explore differences and similarities among respondents with different health literacy levels.

      Thematic analysis showed that most respondents did not question the quality of online health information and relied on evaluation criteria not recognized by existing web quality guidelines. Individuals with low health literacy, despite presenting higher eHealth literacy scores, appeared to use less established criteria and to rely more heavily on non-established ones compared to those with high health literacy.

      Disparities in evaluation ability among people with different health literacy might be related to differences in awareness of the issue and to the use of different evaluation criteria. Future research should quantitatively investigate the interplay between health literacy, use of established and non-established criteria, and ability to evaluate online health information.

      Communication and patient education efforts should aim to raise awareness on online health information quality and to promote use of established evaluation criteria, especially among low health literate citizens.

    • Self-management support: A qualitative study of ethical dilemmas experienced by nurses

      2015, Patient Education and Counseling

      Citation Excerpt :

      The focus on nurses is a logical choice, as SMS is most often attributed to this group of professionals [18]. In order to explore the understudied subject of ethical dilemmas in SMS, a qualitative study was conducted in the Netherlands [23]. In the Netherlands, self-management figures prominently on the agenda of healthcare providers, patient organizations and policy makers alike.

      Policymakers increasingly focus their attention on stimulating patients’ self-management. Critical reflection on this trend is often limited. A focus on self-management does not only change nurses’ activities, but also the values underlying the nurse–patient relationship. The latter can result in ethical dilemmas.

      In order to identify possible dilemmas a qualitative study consisting of semi-structured interviews was conducted. Six experts on self-management and medical ethics and 15 nurses participated.

      Nurses providing self-management support were at risk of facing three types of ethical dilemmas: respecting patient autonomy versus reaching optimal health outcomes, respecting patient autonomy versus stimulating patient involvement, and a holistic approach to self-management support versus safeguarding professional boundaries.

      The ethical dilemmas experienced by nurses rest on different views about what constitutes good care provision and good self-management. Interviewed nurses had a tendency to steer patients in a certain direction. They put great effort into convincing patients to follow their suggestions, be it making the ‘right choice’ according to medical norms or becoming actively involved patients.

      Because self-management support may result in clashing values, the development and implementation of self-management support requires deliberation about the values underlying the relationship between professionals and patients.

    View all citing articles on Scopus
    (Video) Focus groups || Qualitative Research Methods

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    Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

    FAQs

    How qualitative research can contribute to understanding health and healthcare? ›

    Qualitative research helps to understand the patterns of health behaviors, describe illness experiences, design health interventions, and develop healthcare theories. The ultimate strength of the qualitative research approach lies in the richness of the data and the descriptions and depth of exploration it makes.

    What is the contribution of qualitative research in information and communication technology? ›

    Qualitative research produces data that are rich and voluminous, shedding light on the lived experience of the "being-in-the-world" and the interactions inherent in complex social phenomena.

    What is the importance of qualitative research in the field of communication? ›

    Qualitative research findings contribute to the growing body of technical communication re- search by exploring situations, organizations, and cultures. model for more informal work on a particular problem.

    How does quantitative research contribute to communication? ›

    Written for communication students, Quantitative Research in Communication provides practical, user-friendly coverage of how to use statistics, how to interpret SPSS printouts, how to write results, and how to assess whether the assumptions of various procedures have been met.

    Why it is important to use qualitative research methods in the field of public health? ›

    Qualitative research methods are a key component of field epidemiologic investigations because they can provide insight into the perceptions, values, opinions, and community norms where investigations are being conducted (1,2).

    Why is qualitative research good in healthcare? ›

    Qualitative research methods are receiving an increasing recognition in health care related research. The use of qualitative research in health care enables researchers to answer questions that may not be easily answered by quantitative methods.

    What is the importance contribution of information and communication technology? ›

    Information and communication technology (ICT) has contributed immensely to social and economic improvements, such as higher employment and productivity, increasing access to a higher quality of life.

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    Increased ICT production and use has the potential to create job opportunities, transfer skills, and increase efficiency and transparency in politics and business, and therefore, contribute to economic growth.

    Why is qualitative research important? ›

    Qualitative research is very important in educational research as it addresses the “how” and “why” research questions and enables deeper understanding of experiences, phenomena, and context. Qualitative research allows you to ask questions that cannot be easily put into numbers to understand human experience.

    What is the purpose of qualitative research as this relates to how you will approach report writing for your study? ›

    Qualitative research can help researchers to access the thoughts and feelings of research participants, which can enable development of an understanding of the meaning that people ascribe to their experiences.

    What is the importance of qualitative research in our daily life essay? ›

    But it's also important to understand what qualitative research is – an approach used largely in the social sciences to explore social interactions, systems and processes. It provides an in-depth understanding of the ways people come to understand, act and manage their day-to-day situations in particular settings.

    What are the three important functions of qualitative research? ›

    The three most common qualitative methods, explained in detail in their respective modules, are participant observation, in-depth interviews, and focus groups. Each method is particularly suited for obtaining a specific type of data.

    How quantitative research becomes helpful in medical education? ›

    The Quantitative research method is widely used in the healthcare field to quantify behaviors, attitudes, opinions and other important variables from a large sample of data collection.

    What is qualitative research in mass communication? ›

    Qualitative research involves several methods of data collection, such as focus groups, field observation, in-depth interviews, and case studies. In all of these methods, the questioning approach is varied.

    How is research related to communication? ›

    This in essence is what communication research is about – how messages are sent, and how they are received. At its broadest, communication research is concerned with identifying, exploring, and measuring the factors that surround communication, in any form and regarding any topic.

    What is the value of qualitative research in healthcare and its impact on clinical decision making? ›

    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.

    What is an example of qualitative data in healthcare? ›

    Qualitative Data

    Involves observing people in selected places and listening to discover how they feel and why they might feel that way (Wang, 2013). Examples of qualitative data include: male/female, smoker/non-smoker, or questionnaire response (agree, disagree, neutral).

    What is the role of qualitative data in developing evidence based health policy? ›

    Quantitative evidence provides the empiric knowing necessary for practice, and qualitative evidence supports the personal and experiential knowing critical for practice. Qualitative research presents its findings through participants' words and stories, which are easily applied to nursing care practices.

    What is qualitative research methods in healthcare? ›

    Qualitative health research (the collection and systematic analysis of non-quantitative data about peoples' experiences of health or illness and the healthcare system) offers several approaches that can help to mitigate these risks.

    How is qualitative and quantitative data used in healthcare? ›

    Qualitative research provides insight into a problem and can inform hypotheses for quantitative research. It is just as applicable to clinical trials as it is to health services research, enabling an in depth understanding of the problem that quantitative research alone cannot deliver.

    What is the value of qualitative research? ›

    The value of qualitative research is that it gives a voice to the lived experience whilst allowing for practitioners to gain deeper insight into the unique experiences and treatment needs of individuals. Such insight can later be applied to further improve the management of eating disorders.

    What is the importance of Information and Communication Technology in education? ›

    Over the last decades, information and communication technology (ICT) in learning institutions has enhanced learning by greater heights. Technology-enhanced learning in both pre-schools and higher learning institutions serves as a supportive education tool to propagate learners' knowledge and skills.

    How information communication technologies help developing countries? ›

    ICT can potentially help LMICs tackle a wide range of health, social and economic problems.By improving access to information and enabling communication, ICT can play a role in achieving millennium development goals (MDGs) such as the elimination of extreme poverty, combating serious diseases, and accomplishing ...

    How important is Information and Communication Technology ICT today in the business world? ›

    We rely on technology to keep us productive, whether it's for data entry or product development. Perhaps one of the biggest and most significant examples of IT's impact on the business world is in the communication space. IT and communication are now so intertwined, that they have their own designation: ICT.

    What is the value of qualitative research in healthcare and its impact on clinical decision making? ›

    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.

    What is qualitative research in health? ›

    Qualitative health research (the collection and systematic analysis of non-quantitative data about peoples' experiences of health or illness and the healthcare system) offers several approaches that can help to mitigate these risks.

    How and where we can apply qualitative research in medical education? ›

    In medical education, published qualitative work includes methodologies such as grounded theory, phenomenology, ethnography, case study, discourse analysis, participatory action research and narrative inquiry, although the list is growing as the field embraces researchers with diverse disciplinary backgrounds.

    What is the role of qualitative data in developing evidence based health policy? ›

    Quantitative evidence provides the empiric knowing necessary for practice, and qualitative evidence supports the personal and experiential knowing critical for practice. Qualitative research presents its findings through participants' words and stories, which are easily applied to nursing care practices.

    What is purpose of qualitative research? ›

    Qualitative research involves asking participants about their experiences of things that happen in their lives. It enables researchers to obtain insights into what it feels like to be another person and to understand the world as another experiences it.

    What is an example of qualitative data in healthcare? ›

    Qualitative Data

    Involves observing people in selected places and listening to discover how they feel and why they might feel that way (Wang, 2013). Examples of qualitative data include: male/female, smoker/non-smoker, or questionnaire response (agree, disagree, neutral).

    Why is it important to understand the health system within the context of research? ›

    It can provide important information about disease trends and risk factors, outcomes of treatment or public health interventions, functional abilities, patterns of care, and health care costs and use. The different approaches to research provide complementary insights.

    What is the importance of quantitative research in health? ›

    Quantitative research is essential in finding the right treatment to cure or treat a particular disease. By using quantitative research for patient surveys, doctors can find more about their patient and how satisfied they were with their service.

    What are examples of qualitative research questions? ›

    Examples of qualitative research questions: What is it like growing up in a single-parent family in a rural environment? What are the experiences of people working night shifts in health care? How would overweight people describe their meal times while dieting?

    How is quantitative research used in public health? ›

    Quantitative research methods are often used in public health research and evaluation to determine the needs of a community or population, examine associations among multiple factors, and compare outcomes across subpopulations based on demographic characteristics (e.g., age, gender, race, education, income).

    How does qualitative research contribute to the field of education technical? ›

    Qualitative research is very important in educational research as it addresses the “how” and “why” research questions and enables deeper understanding of experiences, phenomena, and context. Qualitative research allows you to ask questions that cannot be easily put into numbers to understand human experience.

    What is an example of qualitative research in education? ›

    Interviews, for example, are common in both modes of research. An interview with students that features open-ended questions intended to reveal ideas and beliefs around attendance will provide qualitative data.

    What can we learn from qualitative research? ›

    Qualitative research can help researchers to access the thoughts and feelings of research participants, which can enable development of an understanding of the meaning that people ascribe to their experiences.

    How does qualitative research benefit evidence-based practice? ›

    In reality, qualitative research supports the most basic principle of evidence-based practice, that clinical decisions are based on clinical expertise, evidence and patient values.

    What value does qualitative evidence Bring to a body of evidence? ›

    A qualitative evidence synthesis (commonly referred to as QES) can add value by providing decision makers with additional evidence to improve understanding of intervention complexity, contextual variations, implementation, and stakeholder preferences and experiences.

    What role does qualitative research play in evidence-based practice? ›

    What role does qualitative research play in evidence-based practice (EBP)? It offers a systematic approach for yielding insights into human experience and behavior.

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