Exploring qualitative research synthesis: the role of patients' perspectives in health policy design and decision making

Patient. 2011;4(3):143-52. doi: 10.2165/11539880-000000000-00000.


Health systems are placing more and more emphasis on the design and delivery of services that are focused on the patient, and there is a growing interest in patient involvement in health policy research and health technology assessment (HTA). Furthermore, there is a growing research interest in eliciting patients' views, not only on 'what works' for patients but also on the need for intervention and on factors influencing the implementation of particular health technologies, their appropriateness and acceptability. This article focuses on qualitative research synthesis in eliciting patients' perspectives. Its aim is to bring research closer to policy development and decision making, to facilitate better use of research findings for health and welfare, to generate a body of evidence, and to ensure that effective and appropriate information is used in health policy decision design. A variety of synthesizing approaches in qualitative research are explored, such as meta-synthesis, meta-summary, meta-ethnography, and meta-study, focusing especially on methodology. Meta-synthesis and meta-ethnography are probably the most frequently cited approaches in qualitative research synthesis and have perhaps the most developed methodology. The implications of these various synthesizing approaches in relation to health policy and HTA are discussed, and we suggest that meta-synthesis and meta-summary are particularly useful approaches. They have an explicit focus on 'evidence synthesis', fairly clear methodologies, and they are designed to not only present interpretations of the findings but also integrate research findings. Qualitative research synthesis enables researchers to synthesize findings from multiple qualitative studies on patients' perspectives instead of establishing new, expensive, and perhaps redundant studies that might intrude on the lives of patients. Qualitative research synthesis is highly recommended by decision makers and in health policy research and HTA. In cases where patient assessment is important to overall success, it can provide those responsible for policy and decision making with a broad and varied range of knowledge about patients' perspectives before they make decisions on the application of health technologies.

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making*
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Policy Making*
  • Qualitative Research*
  • Research Design
  • Role*