Enhanced qualitative research reporting method may improve patient care

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Patients could benefit from improved nursing care and outcomes thanks to new guidance that helps draw out meaningful findings from qualitative studies, according to new UK research.

UK researchers from the University of Stirling are promoting the approach that enables the collation and analysis of information gathered from studies based on qualitative research including patient interviews and focus groups. Studies by nurses often taken this form, in contrast to quantitative research, which is based on the collection and analysis of data.

The new study, published online in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, has resulted in the creation of the first-ever tailored reporting guidance for the methodology, known as “meta-ethnography”. It will give academics and healthcare decision makers greater confidence in the findings of qualitative studies and, ultimately, aid the improvement of patient care and services, said the researchers.

Meta-ethnography, developed by sociologists in 1988, involves systematically comparing data from qualitative studies to identify and develop new overarching concepts, theories and models. It enables researchers to combine the findings of qualitative studies, rather than concentrating on the individual cases, noted those behind the new guidelines, which will be free to use. The researchers noted that hospital managers often lacked trust in the findings of qualitative research and, ultimately, did not use them to improve their decisions, services and patient care.

However, the authors of the new guidance said they had, for the first time, provided bespoke guidance on this approach to improve reporting of data collection and analysis. The new guidance has 19 specific reporting criteria, supported by detailed explanatory notes. It includes recommendations on all aspects of meta-ethnography conduct and reporting.

Lead study author Dr Emma France, from Stirling’s Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions Research Unit, said that: “to create high-quality, patient-focused health services, we need to consider why and how they work – and people’s experiences of using them. Information about people’s experiences of health services and care should play a major role in improving health services, but individual studies of this kind are often seen as anecdotal, so rarely influence decision making,” she said.

The researchers said that pulling evidence together from many existing qualitative studies, including those using patient interviews or focus groups, can shed light on important factors, such as why patients or health professionals behave in a certain way, or what it’s like to experience an illness. Dr France added that: The guidance will help to provide new insights and conclusions regarding specific health topics, for example, people’s experiences of being treated for a certain type of illness.”