Focus group research and "the patient's view"

Soc Sci Med. 2006 Oct;63(8):2091-104. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2006.05.016. Epub 2006 Jun 23.


A clear emphasis on the patient's view is discernible in the health services research literature of the past decades. Such a switch to patients' perspectives has been greatly facilitated by a wider acceptance and use of qualitative methods. In particular, focus groups are often used to uncover the range and depth of experiences of health services users and chronically ill individuals. Although this method contributes to a better understanding of patients' perspectives and practices, a number of analytical considerations have been overlooked. The aim of this paper is to consider how to conceptualise and analyse interactions in focus group research. We argue that focus groups are social spaces in which participants co-construct the "patient's view" by sharing, contesting and acquiring knowledge. Focus groups conducted with home care patients in Quebec, Canada (on antibiotic intravenous therapy, parenteral nutrition, peritoneal dialysis and oxygen therapy) are used to illustrate three interactive processes at work in focus groups: (1) establishing oneself as experienced and knowledgeable; (2) establishing oneself as in search of information and advice; and (3) validating or challenging one another's knowledge claims. We develop an analytical template focused on the subtle dynamics underpinning the various and at times competing claims of patients. This template acknowledges the processes through which participants attribute authority to the claims of others, including the focus group moderator. We find that focus group research does not derive epistemological authority simply from the identity of its participants. Rather, an emerging consensus about what constitutes the patient's view is the result of context-dependent social interactions that need to be scrutinised.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Canada
  • Chronic Disease / psychology*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups / methods*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Services Research
  • Home Care Services
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Research Design