People experience things in a unique way, using their own words and meanings to make sense of what is going on around them. In the case of a health condition or disease, the words and meanings that people use to describe their experiences may differ from those used by their clinician. This includes important, in-depth information that could remain hidden if quantitative research methods are used alone; qualitative research can however capture these data, giving clinicians, researchers, and policymakers a better understanding of which treatments and circumstances would prove beneficial to diverse groups of patients in their care. 

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research is primarily about “words” rather than “numbers”, and acknowledges the value of participant-led reports on a health condition or disease. This information may be collected through interviews using open-ended questions, or by setting up focus groups to discuss the health condition in more detail. It enables participants to have more control in defining the areas that they deem important, and permits a rich and in-depth exploration that can inform subsequent quantitative studies.


two people talking

The advantages of using qualitative research methods

These methods allow the participant to describe their personal health journey in their own words – in this sense, they are seen as a highly valid way of collecting data. As well as gaining deeper insights, these methods can be used to gather data where there is little existing evidence, or on topics that may be considered sensitive. In addressing diverse research questions, these methods can generate data to inform diagnostic criteria, clinical assessment, and patient care.

How reliable – and representative – are qualitative data?

Using rigorous analytical frameworks of good practice, patterns of consensus across individuals can be established by looking for common themes in the data.1,2 Equally, there is value in identifying distinctions in patients’ experiences of health conditions. The fruitful contribution of qualitative research in identifying patterns of patient–clinician interaction and treatment experiences is increasingly being acknowledged in literature as well as in government policies.3,4 Thus, there has been a shift – from debates of quantitative versus qualitative, to a recognition of the contribution of both methodologies in providing a comprehensive picture of a disease and, most importantly, allowing the patient to express this using their own words.

At Vitaccess, we offer expertise in qualitative and quantitative methodologies to capture the patient’s experience in any language. To find out how we can help you reach your real-world evidence endpoints, get in touch at

¹Braun V & Clarke V. Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qual Res Psychol 2006;3(2):77–101.
² Byrne D. A worked example of Braun and Clarke’s approach to reflexive thematic analysis. Qual Quant 2022;56:1391–1412.
³ Braun V & Clarke V. Comment: Novel insights into patients’ life-worlds: the value of qualitative research. Lancet Psychiatry 2019;6(9):720–1.
4 NHS England. Bite-size guide to patient insight: Building greater insight through qualitative research. 2017. Available at: Date accessed: 28 Jun 2022.

By Jane Dallender

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