The "virtual focus group": using the Internet to reach pregnant women on home bed rest

J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2002 Jul-Aug;31(4):418-27. doi: 10.1111/j.1552-6909.2002.tb00064.x.


Objective: The purpose of this qualitative study was threefold: to investigate the effectiveness of a 'virtual focus group" as a mechanism for collecting qualitative data, to explore the lived experience of pregnant women confined to home bed rest following a diagnosis of preterm labor, and to assess the value of the virtual focus group as an online peer support group for women on home bed rest.

Design: A qualitative, exploratory, descriptive investigation, carried out through the use of a virtual focus group, defined as an Internet-based research method that utilizes electronic mail (e-mail) to unite spatially and temporally separate participants in a text-based group discussion.

Setting: Data collection was conducted via the Internet and consisted of a series of sequential questions presented by the researchers to the participants via e-mail over a 4-week period.

Participants: A purposive sample of 7 women who were on home bed rest for the treatment of preterm labor. Four participants were recruited from a World Wide Web site dedicated to discussions of high-risk pregnancy, and 3 from the perinatal service center of a large health maintenance organization in Northern California.

Results: The virtual focus group process generated rich and detailed qualitative data. Three major categories and seven subcategories regarding the lived experience of home bed rest were identified: the effect of bed rest on participants' lives (transitioning onto bed rest, loss of control and activities, changes in identity and role, coping and personal growth, transitioning off bed rest), the effect of bed rest on relationships with others (relationships with the fetus and other children, relationships with husbands and extended family members), and the virtual focus group as an online peer support group. Participants were unanimous in their appreciation of the virtual focus group. All participants stated that their participation was valuable and beneficial in helping them to cope with the hardships of bed rest.

Conclusion: The findings suggest that the virtual focus group is a useful tool for both collecting qualitative data and mediating the challenges and isolation of home bed rest. Confinement to bed rest at home dramatically alters women's daily activities, self-perceptions, and interpersonal relationships. Understanding the impact of bed rest on women's lives can help nurses to develop appropriate interventions for this unique population. The use of the virtual focus group allows nurses to embrace the technology of the Internet to study and connect women on home bed rest, as well as other isolated and understudied patient groups.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Bed Rest / psychology*
  • Canada
  • Female
  • Focus Groups*
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Nursing Research / methods*
  • Obstetric Labor, Premature / prevention & control*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Pregnancy
  • Self-Help Groups*
  • United States