Aim To consider the pros and cons of focus groups versus interviews for studies interested in examining patient experiences of clinical interventions. The paper looks at the hazards of being a clinician when collecting qualitative data and shares these experiences to provide useful learning for other clinicians embarking on qualitative approaches.
Background Sub-acromial decompression surgery (SAD) is the accepted, surgical intervention for shoulder impingement syndrome. Evidence suggests that outcomes from SAD are no more superior to conservative management. This raises questions as to whether alternative explanations such as patient experience are at play when considering patient outcomes.
Data sources A study looking at patients’ experiences of subacromial decompression surgery six months after the operation.
Review methods One small focus group and one individual interview took place to explore patient experience following sub-acromial decompression shoulder surgery.
Discussion Focus groups risk producing competitive and comparative discussions, and clinical researchers require sufficient training and mentoring to recognise and assist group dynamics. The study exposed ways in which clinicians involved in collecting data may be inured to aspects of patients’ experiences, and accordingly may not explore in depth aspects important to patients.
Conclusion This paper highlights the importance of novice researchers thinking carefully about the capacity for ‘practitioner eyes’ to influence analytical decisions about study design and the direction of data collection. Focus group interactions are complex and risk being underestimated by inexperienced clinical researchers.
Implications for research/practice Novice researchers are advised to be open to the possibility that unpredictable situations are likely to occur and expose assumptions about the study design. Preparation and guidance is required to avoid some of the challenges and manage group dynamics effectively in the first instance.
This article has been subject to double blind peer review and checked using antiplagiarism software