Beyond Exploratory: A Tailored Framework for Assessing Rigor in Qualitative Health Services Research
health services research
Medicine and Health Sciences
Objective: To propose a framework for assessing the rigor of qualitative research that identifies and distinguishes between the diverse objectives of qualitative studies currently used in patient-centered outcomes and health services research (PCOR and HSR). Study Design: Narrative review of published literature discussing qualitative guidelines and standards in peer-reviewed journals and national funding organizations that support PCOR and HSR. Principal Findings: We identify and distinguish three objectives of current qualitative studies in PCOR and HSR: exploratory, descriptive, and comparative. For each objective, we propose methodological standards that can be used to assess and improve rigor across all study phases—from design to reporting. Similar to quantitative studies, we argue that standards for qualitative rigor differ, appropriately, for studies with different objectives and should be evaluated as such. Conclusions: Distinguishing between different objectives of qualitative HSR improves the ability to appreciate variation in qualitative studies as well as appropriately evaluate the rigor and success of studies in meeting their own objectives. Researchers, funders, and journal editors should consider how adopting the criteria for assessing qualitative rigor outlined here may advance the rigor and potential impact of qualitative research in patient-centered outcomes and health services research.