Continuing medical education providers spend a lot of time wallowing in data. There’s the research that has to be done up front to identify gaps between how healthcare providers are actually treating their patients and what the guidelines say they should be doing. Then there’s the research on what the best way to close that gap might be in terms of both information to convey and the format most likely to be effective in changing knowledge, behavior, patient care, and hopefully patient health. And, of course, there’s the outcomes data they must dig into to see to what extent their activity hit its goals.
Most tend to lean toward hard, quantitative data—the numbers that tell the story—as the gold standard for the data they use. But, if quantitative data is the king, then qualitative data is the new queen. So argued Michelle Tyner, senior educational strategist with ArcheMedX, Inc.—in 20 slides over six minutes—during a Puntua Lortu session (similar to Pecha Kucha) at the 2016 Fall CMEPalooza, a free, one-day online educational program organized by Derek Warnick, a continuing healthcare education professional, and Scott Kober, MBA, CCMEP, principal at MedCaseWriter.
She provided this overview on how CME providers can use qualitative data to enhance their quantitative data.
What Is Qualitative Data?
CME providers may tend to shy away from qualitative data because it can’t easily be reduced to numbers. “It’s more related to concepts, opinions, values, and behaviors of people in a social context,” she said. “Qualitative research is exploratory research designed to determine why people do things…it’s about understanding the whole person—not just the numbers, but the stories and emotions behind them that can give you additional insight.” It also provides context on how people interact with each other in the care setting.
Where quantitative data is a means to discover facts about social phenomena and assumes a fixed and measurable reality, she said, qualitative data looks to understand human behavior from the informant’s point of view, and assumes a dynamic and negotiated reality. One example she used was a comparison of the two types of data collected around World War II. For quantitative data, we have facts such as 3 percent of the world’s population at the time was killed, including 6 million Jewish people. A qualitative data source would be stories such as one family’s experience in The Diary of Anne Frank.
Collecting and Analyzing Different Types of Data
The means of collecting data also are very different. You collect quantitative data through measurement, analyze it by using numerical comparisons and statistical inferences, and report it using statistical analyses. Qualitative data can be anything from articles, stories, books, interviews, focus groups, and audio and video recordings, to music, art and other visuals. You collect it by observing and interviewing people and their artifacts.
“The idea is to examine the meaningful and symbolic content” of the data, said Tyner. There are two basic approaches you can use. The deductive approach, which usually is used when the data will be a portion of the larger study and time and resources are limited, involves grouping data by research questions to look for similarities and differences. The inductive approach, which usually is used when the qualitative research is a major piece of the study design, uses the emergent framework to group the data, then look for relationships. You’ll want to focus your qualitative analysis on content, attitude, individual or group-shared ideas, and actual versus hypothetical experience, she added. “This allows you to focus your analysis to get a big-picture view of all the different qualities.”
When you’re interpreting the data, “It’s important to explain the core meaning of the data, organize and connect themes, provide generalizations, and develop credible and trustworthy interpretations.”
When it comes to reporting qualitative data, you can use quotes to reinforce the underlying themes, illustrate points, demonstrate the range of issues, and delineate opposing issues, she said. “Exceptional cases provide unique insights—it’s the outliers that tell the best stories in qualitative analysis.”
Quantitative data may be king, “But it’s good to be queen,” she said. “Being able to provide a story that supports the quantitative data presented only strengthens the overall report.”