Focus groups in health research: exploring the meanings of health and illness

J Health Psychol. 1998 Jul;3(3):329-48. doi: 10.1177/135910539800300304.


Focus group method is becoming increasingly popular among qualitative researchers. After introducing focus group method and briefly overviewing its use in health research, this article shows that the distinctive (and under-used) feature of focus group method is its generation of interactive data. Illustrating my argument with examples from health- related focus group research (including my own data on breast cancer), I argue that this feature makes focus groups an ideal method for gaining access to research participants' own meanings. Interactive data result in enhanced disclosure, improved access to participants' own language and concepts, better understanding of participants' own agendas, the production of more elaborated accounts, and the opportunity to observe the co-construction of meaning in action. Focus groups are, then, an ideal method for exploring people's own meanings and understandings of health and illness.