Qualitative research methodologies can help to address a range of questions that would be difficult to answer adequately using quantitative research approaches. Whilst qualitative approaches are being used in a very broad range of scenarios, some examples of areas where they are applicable include:
- to describe and understand patients’ experience of health and healthcare. For example, what is it like to undergo a novel treatment and how does this compare to the experience of established therapies?
- to explore the social and cultural influences on the experience of health and healthcare, including associated beliefs
- to understand the meanings that patients ascribe to treatments and how this influences related behaviours (e.g. self-management strategies, the decision to participate in a clinical trial or not, adherence to medication, lifestyle choices and behaviours)
- to understand clinicians’ perspectives on contemporary healthcare issues and related clinical practice (e.g. the adoption and use of a novel surgical intervention, the prescription and use of antibiotics in primary care)
Qualitative research is particularly well placed to provide in-depth exploration and understanding of these and other issues that are relevant to health, healthcare and medical practice. Whilst methods of qualitative data collection such as in-depth interviewing and non-participant observation are distinct from quantitative methods, they are often used alongside one another. This may be achieved via nested qualitative studies in clinical trials or other applied health research studies, or by designing mixed-methods studies that combine qualitative and quantitative data. In order to provide further illumination and explanation of specific healthcare issues researchers may draw on conceptual tools and theoretical perspectives from related disciplines e.g. by using sociological theory to explain why patients with chronic diseases self-manage and adapt in specific ways.