Background: Qualitative research has the potential to inform and improve health care decisions but a study based on one year of publications suggests that it is not published in prominent health care journals. A more detailed, longitudinal analysis of its availability is needed. The purpose of this study was to identify, count and compare the number of qualitative and non-qualitative research studies published in high impact health care journals, and explore trends in these data over the last decade.
Methods: A bibliometric approach was used to identify and quantify qualitative articles published in 20 top general medical and health services and policy research journals from 1999 to 2008. Eligible journals were selected based on performance in four different ranking systems reported in the 2008 ISI Journal Citation Reports. Qualitative and non-qualitative research published in these journals were identified by searching MEDLINE, and validated by hand-searching tables of contents for four journals.
Results: The total number of qualitative research articles published during 1999 to 2008 in ten general medical journals ranged from 0 to 41, and in ten health services and policy research journals from 0 to 39. Over this period the percentage of empirical research articles that were qualitative ranged from 0% to 0.6% for the general medical journals, and 0% to 6.4% for the health services and policy research journals.
Conclusions: This analysis suggests that qualitative research it is rarely published in high impact general medical and health services and policy research journals. The factors that contribute to this persistent marginalization need to be better understood.