Q-methodology: definition and application in health care informatics

J Am Med Inform Assoc. Nov-Dec 1997;4(6):501-10. doi: 10.1136/jamia.1997.0040501.


Objective: To introduce the Q-methodology research technique to the field of health informatics. Q-methodology--the systematic study of subjectivity--was used to identify and categorize the opinions of primary care physicians and medical students that contributed to our understanding of their reasons for acceptance of and/or resistance to adapting information technologies in the health care workplace.

Design: Thirty-four physicians and 25 medical students from the Chicago area were surveyed and asked to rank-order 30 opinion statements about information technologies within the health care workplace. The Q-methodology research technique was employed to structure an opinion typology from their rank-ordered statements. (The rank-ordered sorts were subjected to correlation and by-person factor analysis to obtain groupings of participants who sorted the opinion statements into similar arrangements.)

Results: The typology for this study revealed groupings of similar opinion-types associated with the likelihood of physicians and medical students to adapt information technology into their health care workplace. A typology of six opinions was identified in the following groups: (1) Full-Range Adopters; (2) Skills-Concerned Adopters; (3) Technology-Critical Adopters; (4) Independently-Minded and Concerned; (5) Inexperienced and Worried; and (6) Business-Minded and Adaptive. It is imperative to understand that in the application of Q-methodology, the domain is subjectivity and research is performed on small samples. The methodology is a combination of qualitative and quantitative research techniques that reveals dimensions of subjective phenomena from a perspective intrinsic to the individual to determine what is statistically different about the dimensions and to identify characteristics of individuals who share common viewpoints. Low response rates do not bias Q-methodology because the primary purpose is to identify a typology, not to test the typology's proportional distribution within the larger population.

Conclusion: Q-methodology can allow for the simultaneous study of objective and subjective issues to determine an individual's opinion and forecast their likeliness to adapt information technologies in the health care workplace. This study suggests that an organization's system implementers could employ Q-methodology to individualize and customize their approach to understanding the personality complexities of physicians in their organization and their willingness to adapt and utilize information technologies within the workplace.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Attitude to Computers*
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Humans
  • Physicians, Family / psychology*
  • Q-Sort
  • Students, Medical / psychology*