Learning through observation: the role of ethnography in improving critical care

Curr Opin Crit Care. 2010 Dec;16(6):639-42. doi: 10.1097/MCC.0b013e32833ef5ef.


Purpose of review: To determine the conditions under which ethnographic research is a useful tool for reflexive self-learning and enhanced performance in critical care units.

Recent findings: The focus of studies using qualitative methods to investigate the organization of work in critical care units largely remains the investigation of the stresses and strains for staff, patients, and families managing communication at the end of life. A more recent focus of research has been on safety and quality improvement. Iterative feedback between researchers and clinicians is likely a useful tool for self-reflexive learning and change.

Summary: Qualitative researchers have long been involved in the study of critical care. There is a new emphasis on using ethnographic methods as a tool for behavioural change through the process of iterative feedback.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Cultural*
  • Communication
  • Critical Care / organization & administration*
  • Death
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / organization & administration*
  • Patient Safety
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality of Health Care / organization & administration*