Objective: To compare the assessments of primary care and hospital physicians of quantitative and qualitative research abstracts, and to analyse what they put into 'scientific accuracy'.
Design and subjects: Two fictive research abstracts, one quantitative the other qualitative in design, were constructed. Randomly selected Swedish physicians were asked to appraise the two designs for linguistic clarity, clinical relevance, interest value, trustworthiness and scientific accuracy.
Main outcome measures: 286 primary care and 396 hospital physicians delivered complete answers. Their assessments were analysed and compared using Pearson's chi-square test, multivariate logistic regression analyses and Spearman's rho.
Results: Primary care physicians and hospital physicians judged the quantitative abstract similarly. More primary care physicians than hospital physicians appreciated the qualitative abstract. Both primary care and hospital physicians assessed scientific accuracy of the quantitative abstract more highly than clinical relevance, while the qualitative abstract was appreciated more for its relevance than for its scientific accuracy.
Conclusions: The study indicates that qualitative research is valued for its relevance, but is considered lacking in scientific accuracy. To encourage high scientific quality and relevance in medical research, we need to enhance knowledge about qualitative methods, and their scientific guidelines, especially when complex and comprehensive phenomena are to be studied.