Intended for healthcare professionals


An open letter to The BMJ editors on qualitative research

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 10 February 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i563

Re: An open letter to The BMJ editors on qualitative research

Thank you for highlighting the pain and prejudice experienced by the curious academic who lives by the mantra: ‘the research method should match the question’. A hierarchy of publication merit based solely on quantitative methods sends a regrettable message, for example, observational retrospective data studies are more useful and rigorous whilst excluding crucial qualitative research, which impact on the daily art and science of medicine and the pragmatic realities of undertaking research (1) . Worst of all, a blanket policy would make the life of a researcher grindingly boring by cutting out the fun bits of the job which value the narrative of people's experience of illness and healthcare.

Ironically, Professor Kai's seminal qualitative study (2) , recently placed third, out of 20 BMJ outstanding articles, might have been rejected by today’s BMJ. This is an extraordinarily useful research article. I use it for consultation skills feedback and to stimulate discussion on the e-portfolio in observed and debrief sessions for foundation doctor and specialty GP registrars throughout the training cycle and additionally as a research study examplar for academic supervision. This clinical and academic impact is not measured in a citation index.

We feel the research 'pain' of the co-authors of this article as following submission to a certain high ranking UK journal in 2010 and review (by a quantitative reviewer) , our article was initially rejected. On appeal, the complete process lasting almost 9 months (is this a record?), we were finally, fairly, rejected. It has since been cited a respectable 32 times , may have played a small part in the removal of the ill judged QOF PHQ-9 indicator and was cited as an exemplar in the BJGP/ RCGP Critical Appraisal monograph (4) . In Sheffield we continue to train all our researchers to value the complementary nature of quantitative and qualitative research.

1) O’Cathain A, Thomas KJ, Drabble SJ, Rudolph A, Hewison J. What can qualitative research do for randomised controlled trials? A systematic mapping review. BMJ Open 2013;3:e002889.
2) Kai, J. (1996). What worries parents when their preschool children are acutely ill, and why: a qualitative study. Bmj, 313(7063), 983-986.
3) Mitchell C1, Dwyer R, Hagan T, Mathers N.; Impact of the QOF and the NICE guideline in the diagnosis and management of depression: a qualitative study. Br J Gen Pract. 2011 May;61(586):e279-89. doi:10.3399/bjgp11X572472.
4) Critical Reading for Primary Care: Editor R Jones BJGP 2012;

Competing interests: No competing interests

22 February 2016
Caroline Mitchell
GP and Senior Clinical Lecturer
Academic Unit of Primary Medical Care, University of Sheffield
Sam Fox House, Northern General House, Herries Road, Sheffield S5 7AU