Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters The BMJ and qualitative research

By not publishing good qualitative research The BMJ is not fulfilling its values

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 15 March 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i1478
  1. Hiba Zafran, occupational therapist-psychotherapist and faculty lecturer
  1. McGill University, 3654 Prom Sir William Osler, Montreal, QC, Canada H3G 1Y5
  1. hiba.zafran{at}

In an era of person centred care, Sackett and colleagues’ definition of evidence based practice (EBP) becomes even more important.1 While quantitative research may currently have the spotlight in generating “best research evidence,” qualitative research has allowed us to rigorously explore and understand the dynamics and complexity of “clinical expertise” and “patient values and preferences,” which interact to produce EBP. In addition, qualitative research helps craft the approaches that unpack the black box of implementation research to understand why and how a particular intervention works or not in a particular situation.2 Thus, qualitative research has enriched our ability to carry out EBP in everyday practice.

Furthermore, the widening focus on global health concerns and social determinants of health, and the call for social accountability in medical education, all highlight relational values for care as well as epistemological diversity in what we need to know, and how we come to know it, in healthcare.3

Whether we should explore the utility or success of qualitative research publications in The BMJ and other journals is an antiquated question given the current landscape of healthcare.4 Instead, I would argue that by not actively promoting the publication of good qualitative research The BMJ is not fulfilling its values—“patients (and their voices) come first;” “knowledge should be independent and unbiased,” including a reconsideration of epistemological bias; “serving our customers,” including all those here who support qualitative research; and “improving healthcare is difficult and takes courage,” including the courage to change.5 In The BMJ’s own words, “do it well or not at all.”


  • Competing interests: None declared.


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