Sharing qualitative research findings with participants: study experiences of methodological and ethical dilemmas

Patient Educ Couns. 2011 Mar;82(3):389-95. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2010.12.016. Epub 2011 Jan 22.


Objective: Sharing qualitative research findings with participants, namely member-check, is perceived as a procedure designed to enhance study credibility and participant involvement. It is rarely used, however, and its methodological usefulness and ethical problems have been questioned. This article explores benefits and risks in applying member-check when studying healthcare topics, questioning the way it should be performed.

Methods: We discuss researchers' experiences in applying member-check, using four examples from three different studies: healthcare-providers' experiences of working with sexual-abuse survivors; adolescents' exposure to domestic-violence, and delivering and receiving bad news.

Results: Methodological and ethical difficulties can arise when performing member-check, challenging the day-to-day researcher-participant experience, and potentially, the physician-patient relationship.

Conclusion: Applying member-check in healthcare settings is complex. Although this strategy has good intentions, it is not necessarily the best method for achieving credibility. Harm can be caused to participants, researchers and the doctor-patient relationship, risking researchers' commitment to ethical principles.

Practice implications: Because participants' experience regarding member-check is difficult to predict, such a procedure should be undertaken cautiously. Prior to initiating member-check, researchers should ask themselves whether such a procedure is potentially risky for participants; and if anonymity cannot be guaranteed, use alternative procedures when needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Confidentiality
  • Ethics, Research
  • Health Communication*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Qualitative Research*
  • Researcher-Subject Relations / ethics*