Sharpening the focus: Differentiating between focus groups for patient engagement vs. qualitative research

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Background In patient-oriented research (POR), focus groups can be used as a method in both qualitative research and in patient engagement. Canadian health systems researchers and research ethics boards (REBs), however, are often unaware of the key differences to consider when using focus groups for these two distinct purposes. Furthermore, no one has clearly established how using focus groups for these two purposes should be differentiated in the context of Canada’s Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR), which emphasizes appropriate patient engagement as a fundamental component of POR. Body Researchers and staff in the Maritime SPOR SUPPORT Unit refer to focus groups in patient engagement as discussion groups for clarity, and have developed internal guidelines to encourage their appropriate use. In this paper, the guidelines comparing and contrasting the design and conduct of focus groups and of discussion groups is described, including: The theoretical framework for each; the need for research ethics board review approval; identifying participants; collecting and analyzing data; ensuring rigour; and disseminating results. Conclusion The MSSU guidelines address an important and current methodological challenge in patient-oriented research, which will benefit Canadian and international health systems researchers, patients, and institutional REBs.




Doria, N., Condran, B., Boulos, L., Curtis Maillet, D. G., Dowling, L., & Levy, A. (2018, June 25). Sharpening the focus: Differentiating between focus groups for patient engagement vs. qualitative research. Research Involvement and Engagement. BioMed Central Ltd.

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