Qualitative Research

Health care isn’t delivered in a vacuum. It’s delivered in a living, breathing real-world context, full of nuance and complexity.

Qualitative research helps us understand these nuances and how they interact to influence outcomes. In-depth interviews, focus groups, naturalistic observation, and open-ended surveys are among the staples of this approach.

Beyond these well-established methods, the Center for Health Research pursues new directions in qualitative research with a number of innovative techniques. Whether in purely qualitative studies or in mixed-methods studies, we are using these methodologies to engage health care providers, health systems, and patients in our research. These innovations include:

  • Rapid ethnographic evaluation—a team-based ethnographic approach to evaluation that facilitates fast and flexible data collection, analysis and reporting
  • User-centered designcreating products, services, or settings that are responsive to the problems and needs of individuals who will ultimately experience them.
  • Participatory research methods/stakeholder engagement—forming partnerships among those involved in or affected by the research process, recognizing the unique strengths and perspectives of each participant

In recent years, we have used these techniques in a wide variety of research contexts, including:

  • Using the rapid assessment process to evaluate the patient-centered medical home model
  • Conducting formative evaluations of a primary care–based intervention to improve outcomes for patients with chronic pain
  • Engaging stakeholders in a study offering whole-genome sequencing to prospective parents
  • Evaluating the implementation of electronic health records-based interventions in community health centers


Recent Publications in Qualitative Research

McMullen CK, Ash JS, Sittig DF, Bunce A, Guappone K, Dykstra R, Carpenter J, Richardson J, Wright A. Rapid assessment of clinical information systems in the healthcare setting: An efficient method for time-pressed evaluation. Methods Inf Med 2011;50(4):299-307. PMCID: PMC3746487

Bunce AE, Gold R, Davis JV, McMullen CK, Jaworski V, Mercer M, Nelson C. Ethnographic process evaluation in primary care: explaining the complexity of implementation. BMC Health Serv Res 2014 Dec 5;14(1):607. PMCID: PMC4265455

Coronado GD, Schneider J, Sanchez JJ, Petrik AF, Green B. Reasons for non-response to a direct-mailed FIT kit program: Lessons learned from a pragmatic colorectal-cancer screening study in a federally sponsored health center. Transl Behav Med 2015 Mar;5(1):60-7. PMCID: PMC4332898

Liles EG, Schneider JL, Feldstein AC, Mosen DM, Perrin N, Rosales AG, Smith DH. Implementation challenges and successes of a population-based colorectal cancer screening program: a qualitative study of stakeholder perspectives. Implement Sci 2015;10(1):41 [Epub 2015-03-29] PMCID: PMC4391591

Qualitative Research Contact: Carmit McMullen, PhD, 503-335-6381