Background: Contradictory evidence exists about the emotional burden of participating in qualitative research for palliative care patients and carers and this raises questions about whether this type of research is ethically justified in a vulnerable population. This study aimed to investigate palliative care patients' and carers' perceptions of the benefits and problems associated with open interviews and to understand what causes distress and what is helpful about participation in a research interview.
Methods: A descriptive qualitative study. The data were collected in the context of two studies exploring the experiences of care of palliative care patients and carers. The interviews ended with questions about patients' and carers' thoughts on participating in the studies and whether this had been a distressing or helpful event. We used a qualitative descriptive analysis strategy generated from the interviews and the observational and interactional data obtained in the course of the study.
Results: The interviews were considered helpful: sharing problems was therapeutic and being able to contribute to research was empowering. However, thinking about the future was reported to be the most challenging. Consent forms were sometimes read with apprehension and being physically unable to sign was experienced as upsetting. Interviewing patients and carers separately was sometimes difficult and not always possible.
Conclusion: The open interview enables the perspectives of patients and carers to be heard, unfettered from the structure of closed questions. It also enables those patients or carers to take part who would be unable to participate in other study designs. The context is at least as important as the format of the research interview taking into account the relational circumstances with carers and appropriate ways of obtaining informed consent. Retrospective consent could be a solution to enhancing participants control over the interview.