Background: Qualitative longitudinal research is an evolving methodology, particularly within health care research. It facilitates a nuanced understanding of how phenomena change over time and is ripe for innovative approaches. However, methodological reflections which are tailored to health care research are scarce. This article provides a synthesised and practical account of the advantages and challenges of maintaining regular telephone contact between interviews with participants in a qualitative longitudinal study.
Methods: Participants with metastatic colorectal cancer were interviewed at 3 time points over the course of a year. Half the group also received monthly telephone calls to explore the added value and the feasibility of capturing change as close to when it was occurring as possible.
Results: The data gathered from the telephone calls added context to the participants' overall narrative and informed subsequent interviews. The telephone calls meant we were able to capture change close to when it happened and there was a more evolved, and involved, relationship between the researcher and the participants who were called on a monthly basis. However, ethical challenges were amplified, boundaries of the participant/researcher relationship questioned, and there was the added analytical burden.
Conclusions: The telephone calls facilitated a more nuanced understanding of the illness experience to emerge, when compared with the interview only group. The findings suggest that intensive telephone contact may be justified if retention is an issue, when the phenomena being studied is unpredictable and when participants feel disempowered or lack control. These are potential issues for research involving participants with long-term illness.