Qualitative Research in Healthcare [Types, Examples, & Challenges]

healthcare and medical concept

In the dynamic landscape of healthcare, understanding the intricate nuances of patient or doctor experiences, perceptions, and behaviors is crucial. 

While quantitative research provides valuable measurable data, it often falls short of capturing the depth and complexity of these aspects. 

This is where qualitative research in healthcare emerges as a powerful tool. It offers deeper feedback that can inform decision-making, improve service delivery, and enhance patient-centered care.

In this blog post, we dive into qualitative research in the healthcare space: what it is, its types, challenges, and a real-world case study. 

Interested in conducting healthcare qualitative research? Contact our healthcare market research company today. Simply fill out an online form or email us at [email protected].

What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research is a category of market research that describes ways of gathering an in-depth understanding of a particular audience or topic. 

It is primarily exploratory in nature, aiming to uncover the complexities and nuances of human behavior, experiences, and perceptions. 

Unlike quantitative research, which focuses on numerical data and statistical analysis, qualitative research involves the collection and analysis of non-numerical data such as interviews, observations, documents, and artifacts.

Recommended Reading: Difference Between Qualitative and Quantitative Market Research

Types of Qualitative Research in Healthcare

Qualitative research in healthcare provides detailed and contextualized information on product development, patient satisfaction, doctor and physician perceptions, and more. 

The most common types of qualitative research include focus groups, in-depth interviews, and phone surveys. Let’s explore these in more detail. 

Focus groups

Focus groups involve a small group of individuals (typically 6-10) who are brought together to discuss a specific topic or issue. Here's how healthcare organizations can utilize them:

  • Exploring patient experiences: Focus groups can help healthcare organizations understand patients' experiences with a particular healthcare service, such as a new treatment, a healthcare facility, or the patient journey through a specific healthcare process. It can uncover patients' perspectives, concerns, and suggestions for improvement.

  • Assessing patients’ needs and preferences: For example, a healthcare organization planning to launch a new program or service can use focus groups to gather insights on what features or elements are most important to patients.

  • Gathering feedback on healthcare initiatives: Lastly, focus groups can be utilized to obtain feedback on existing healthcare initiatives, such as a patient education program or a community outreach campaign. Participants can provide valuable input on the effectiveness, relevance, and potential improvements of these initiatives.

In-depth interviews (IDIs)

In-depth interviews or IDIs for short, involve one-on-one conversations between a researcher and a participant, allowing for a detailed exploration of a person's perspectives, experiences, and opinions. 

Healthcare organizations can use in-depth interviews in the following ways:

  • Exploring patient narratives: In-depth interviews can help healthcare organizations understand patients' personal experiences and perspectives in depth. They can delve into individuals' journeys through healthcare, uncovering unique insights, emotions, and challenges that may not be captured through other methods.

  • Investigating healthcare professionals' perspectives: Gain a deeper understanding of healthcare professionals' experiences, perspectives, and challenges. Organizations can explore topics such as job satisfaction, burnout, or factors influencing clinical decision-making.

Phone surveys

Phone surveys involve conducting structured interviews over the phone. 

Here are some use cases of how healthcare organizations can use phone surveys to collect data from a larger sample of participants efficiently:

  • Assessing patient satisfaction: By asking specific questions about various aspects of care, organizations can gather quantitative data on patient experiences and satisfaction levels.

  • Collecting health-related data: Phone surveys can be used to collect data on health behaviors, disease prevalence, or public health indicators. Organizations can ask participants about their health status, habits, or opinions on specific health-related topics, allowing them to monitor trends or assess community needs.

  • Evaluating healthcare interventions: Organizations can conduct follow-up surveys to assess outcomes, gather participant feedback, or track progress over time.

Challenges of Qualitative Research in Healthcare 

Qualitative research in healthcare can face several challenges. It is why most organizations and facilities work with healthcare market research companies to execute these studies. 

Before adequate planning, budgeting, and allocation of resources, here are common challenges of qualitative research in healthcare to consider:

1. Time and resource-intensive

Collecting qualitative data through methods like interviews, focus groups, or observations requires significant time and effort from both researchers and participants.

This can make it more difficult to conduct market research with doctors and physicians because their schedules are already busy.

Additionally, the analysis process can be lengthy as it involves careful examination, coding, and interpretation of qualitative data. 

2. Ethical considerations

Researchers must obtain informed consent, protect patients’ confidentiality and privacy, and ensure their well-being throughout the study.

Additionally, in sensitive healthcare contexts, such as studies involving vulnerable populations or discussing sensitive health issues, ethical challenges may arise, requiring additional safeguards and sensitivity.

3. Small sample sizes

Qualitative research often involves smaller sample sizes compared to quantitative studies. While this allows for in-depth exploration, it limits generalizability.

Findings from a qualitative study may not be representative of the larger population, as the focus is on understanding specific contexts, perspectives, or experiences rather than producing statistically significant results. 

Example of Qualitative Research in Healthcare

As new technology is offered, systems are evolving to improve the patient experience and care they receive.

However, no matter how innovative or effective your offering is - you’ll need to engage decision-makers for adoption and implementation. 

One option to better understand how to engage key decision-makers is to conduct research. That is exactly what our client, an organization that assists healthcare companies with innovation, hired us to do. 

Drive Research was hired for a full-service healthcare qualitative research project. Here is the process our market research company followed.

Step 1. Understanding the client's objectives

One of the most important steps of any research project is the kickoff meeting to understand the goals and objectives of the client.

During our 60-minute initial kickoff meeting with the healthcare organization, we learned our client wanted to better understand the landscape for a new method to conduct cancer screenings. 

Other key objectives of the healthcare qualitative research study included:

  • Having insights to train their key account managers to ask the right questions (financial barriers, workflows, IT considerations) 
  • Informing how to reach and engage stakeholders
  • Understanding the financial value proposition
  • Understanding relevant terminology
  • Developing a “playbook” to build readiness assessments 
  • Asking the right questions, and assessing an overall interest in this new screening

Once the objectives have been shared, we are able to get started on narrowing down the target audience.

Step 2. Determining the target audience

During the 60-minute kickoff, our team identified qualifying criteria for the target audience and began drafting a recruitment screener

The screener utilized questions to indicate whether or not the respondent met the following criteria: 

  • Currently working in a Healthcare organization that is part of a health system that covers at least 500,000 lives 
  • Has a job title of Director of Population Health, Quality, CMO, Care Management, or Chief Medical Information Officer 
  • At least 3 years of experience in managing populations, quality, or technology related to value-based care
  • At least equal involvement in the decision-making or purchasing process of implementing new healthcare technology
  • Provides input and guides new cancer screening products or programs
  • Involved in the decision-making process of implementing a new cancer screening product or program

Additionally, at the kickoff, our client identified a total of 112 health systems they would be interested in speaking with.  

This list included small, rural health systems and those that are large and well-known. 

Step 3. Qualitative Recruiting 

Recruiting off of a pre-determined list can present many challenges and impacts the approach.

Typically, our healthcare market research company would start with utilizing in-house and partner databases to pre-screen potential participants. 

When we need to source participants from a finite list of companies, we often will utilize a grassroots recruitment process. 

This process can be reliable for the same reasons as cold-calling. To name a few: 

  • It can be challenging to generate enough interest to secure a recruit
  • The process can be time-intensive with no guarantee of any significant progress 
  • Contact information can be out of date, or hard to find 
  • When tracking them down on social media platforms, we can be limited by how many we reach out to in a day 

With that being said, being limited to ~100 health systems that are unfamiliar with Drive Research (and potentially market research in general) posed challenges for the recruit.

However, in an effort to best meet our client's needs, we got started with our grassroots outreach. 

Recommended Reading: Healthcare Market Research Recruiting - How It Works

Step 4. Designing the moderator’s guide

For this healthcare qualitative research project, we also created a moderator's guide to assist our moderator during the interviews. 

The discussion guide consisted of 5 sections: 

  • Background and introduction (5 minutes)
  • Health system priorities  (20 minutes)
  • Cancer screening program (15 minutes)
  • [Product] value proposition (17 minutes)
  • Conclusion (3 minutes)

The guide consisted of around 75 questions across all 5 sections.

Being limited to 60 minutes of interview time, we worked to identify priority questions to begin with, and when time allowed, covered the remainder. 

Step 5. Hosting the IDIs

In total, our team was able to locate 30 individuals in relevant roles within our client’s target list. 

Of those 30 respondents, our team conducted 11 interviews lasting 60 minutes each. Our client team was able to sit in on each interview and was provided recordings and transcripts for each. 

Step 6. Reporting

At the conclusion of the study, we provided our client with an 8-page topline report of the market research findings. 

Pleased with the results, our market research team received a perfect score on the follow-up client satisfaction survey. 

Final Thoughts

As healthcare continues to evolve, it becomes increasingly vital to embrace healthcare qualitative research as a complementary approach to quantitative methodologies.

By unraveling the complexity of patient and doctor perspectives, qualitative research equips healthcare organizations with the knowledge to deliver more patient-centric care, address challenges effectively, and drive positive change in the industry.

Contact Our Healthcare Market Research Company 

Drive Research is a national market research firm located in Upstate New York. We work with clients across many different industries on large and small-scale research projects. 

Interested in learning more about how Drive Research can provide high-quality results for your next healthcare market research project?

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040


Ashley Reynolds

With nearly 10 years of experience in market research, Ashley has worked on countless quantitative and qualitative research studies. As a Fieldwork Manager at Drive Research, she’s involved in every stage of the project, especially recruitment.

Learn more about Ashley, here.

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