Friday, 15 August 2014

Focus on focus groups

To help us decide what questions to ask in the survey of health professionals, we are organising two focus groups of healthcare professionals.  A focus group is a form of qualitative research where a group of people are asked about their perceptions, beliefs or opinions on a particular topic. For our focus groups we have invited orthotists, physiotherapists, rehabilitation consultants and gait analysts to come along and give their opinions and personal experiences of treating patients with neuromuscular diseases (NMD) and/or central nervous system (CNS) disorders.

For these groups we developed a topic guide, a predefined list of questions to promote discussion. Participants were asked to give their experience of the care pathways of patients with NMD or CNS disorders with knee instability, what types of orthotic devices they prescribe and what outcomes they perceive as most important. These questions are put to the group who have been asked to take it in turns to give their answers so everyone gets a chance to speak. Because of the group setting, participants can build on answers given by others, and agree with or challenge what is being said. Often one person’s comments can trigger ideas, recollections or thoughts in another person – one of the values of the focus group setting.

In order to undertake these focus groups, I submitted an application to a research ethics committee, which included the topic guide and other documents detailing what we planned to do, the recruitment process and how we would obtain written consent from participants. This research ethics process is described in Dorothy’s post: Gaining research ethics approval.

Focus groups are intended to allow an informal environment and relaxed conversation, in contrast to a more formal one to one interview. Given the conversational style of focus groups, the optimal number of participants is about 6-8 people. This gives everyone a chance to speak with ease without having to elaborate too much or be too concise.

The research ethics committee approved our submission in June and the first focus group has now taken place. As hoped, it brought up some interesting points, such as the use of patient vignettes (short stories), to help focus the questions in the survey of health professionals.

Blogger: Joanne O’Connor

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