Background: Qualitative research methods are now recognized as valuable tools for primary care. With the increasing emphasis on evidence-based medicine and critical appraisal of published work, it is important that qualitative researchers are transparent about their methods and discuss the impact of the research process on their data.
Objectives: To consider the impact of the professional background of researchers on in-depth interviewing in primary care.
Methods: We compare interactions between the interviewer and respondents in two qualitative interview studies of heart disease. Both samples consisted of 60 middle-aged men and women from a range of social backgrounds living in the West of Scotland. One study was conducted by a GP and the other by a sociologist.
Results: Some interview interactions were common to both researchers; for example, interviews were often regarded by respondents as therapeutic. However, some interactions seemed to be related to the researcher's professional background. The GP's perceived higher status led to obscuring of her personal characteristics. The sociologist was often perceived as a 'young woman' rather than defined by her professional role. Thus respondents' perceptions of the interviewer influenced the interview interactions.
Conclusions: Appraising qualitative research depends on the transparency with which the research process is described. Awareness of professional background is particularly important for university departments of primary care (which often include doctors, nurses and social scientists) and should be considered carefully in designing, carrying out and disseminating the results of qualitative studies.