Qualitative research methods: key features and insights gained from use in infection prevention research

Am J Infect Control. 2008 Dec;36(10):764-71. doi: 10.1016/j.ajic.2008.03.010. Epub 2008 Oct 3.


Infection control professionals and hospital epidemiologists are accustomed to using quantitative research. Although quantitative studies are extremely important in the field of infection control and prevention, often they cannot help us explain why certain factors affect the use of infection control practices and identify the underlying mechanisms through which they do so. Qualitative research methods, which use open-ended techniques, such as interviews, to collect data and nonstatistical techniques to analyze it, provide detailed, diverse insights of individuals, useful quotes that bring a realism to applied research, and information about how different health care settings operate. Qualitative research can illuminate the processes underlying statistical correlations, inform the development of interventions, and show how interventions work to produce observed outcomes. This article describes the key features of qualitative research and the advantages that such features add to existing quantitative research approaches in the study of infection control. We address the goal of qualitative research, the nature of the research process, sampling, data collection and analysis, validity, generalizability of findings, and presentation of findings. Health services researchers are increasingly using qualitative methods to address practical problems by uncovering interacting influences in complex health care environments. Qualitative research methods, applied with expertise and rigor, can contribute important insights to infection prevention efforts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Focus Groups / methods
  • Health Services Research / methods*
  • Hospitals, Veterans
  • Humans
  • Infection Control Practitioners
  • Infection Control*
  • Interviews as Topic / methods
  • Qualitative Research*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care / methods*
  • Research Design
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States