Pearls on Developing a Study Using Qualitative Research


Carrie Coughlin, MD, discussed how dermatologists can gain insight into their patient’s preferences using qualitative research tools.

In her presentation “Qualitative Research in Pediatric Dermatology: Why and How,” on July 14, at the 2023 Society for Pediatric Dermatology Meeting in Asheville, North Carolina, Carrie Coughlin, MD, MPHS, and associate professor of dermatology at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri, explained the purpose of qualitative research and the key points to consider when developing a study.1



Coughlin highlighted that qualitative research can help to better understand patient outcomes by looking at and learning about patient preferences and motivations. The wants and needs of patients and their families affect whether a patient completes a study or adheres to guidelines.

The use of qualitative research in dermatology is increasing. Coughlin stated, “It’s interesting to note here that for this review, all of the studies with qualitative methods were published since 2016.”

Studies can be entirely qualitative or quantitative, or a combination of the two. When using both methods, investigators need to be intentional about where the quantitative piece comes in. Measurements might be taken before the qualitative piece, after it, or the two methods might coincide.

Researchers have a number of tools available to conduct their research, including interviews and focus groups. Interviews are usually one-on-one and can be done remotely, which can increase the inclusiveness of a study. In addition, researchers can email or mail surveys to participants if high-speed internet access is an issue.

Focus groups typically involve 4 or more participants and a moderator. Advance planning is necessary to set up a room or a video session if that is being used. Other considerations include providing water and possibly tissues if the topic is emotional. Boundaries also need to be set ahead of time so study participants can interact and participate.

When deciding whether to use interviews or focus groups, consider the kinds of questions that will be asked and how comfortable people will be discussing those topics in a group. In some cases, the interaction between participants can facilitate greater discussions. 

An interview guide needs to be developed to guide the type of interviews or focus groups that are conducted. Another consideration is who will be conducting the interview or moderating the focus group. Participants might be more comfortable telling someone they are not as familiar with about their experiences than their own doctor, particularly when evaluating patient satisfaction.

The type of interview or focus group also needs to be determined. Some are very structured with a moderator or interviewer asking a question, getting the answer, and moving on to the next question. Others involve questions and answers but with less structure. In other cases, the participant can guide the discussion.

The method for recruiting participants is another consideration. Snowball sampling is when one participant shares their experience with people they know and new participants are acquired. Email is another method of recruiting. Qualitative researchers can also use observation and text interpretation to acquire data. The method of recruitment will inform some of the data.

Coughlin noted that it is important to remember to think about those the researcher is accountable to, not only the participants, but also to themselves and to readers. Data privacy and security must be considered. Another aspect of the study is how the information will be disseminated so that the findings are helpful and relevant.


  1. Coughlin C. Qualitative research in pediatric dermatology: Why and how. Session presented at the 2023 Society for Pediatric Dermatology Meeting; July 13-16, 2023; Asheville, NC.
Related Videos
Related Content
© 2023 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.