Using Qualitative Comparative Analysis of Key Informant Interviews in Health Services Research: Enhancing a Study of Adjuvant Therapy Use in Breast Cancer Care

Ann Scheck McAlearney, Daniel Walker, Alexandra D Moss, Nina A Bickell
Medical Care 2016, 54 (4): 400-5

BACKGROUND: Qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) is a methodology created to address causal complexity in social sciences research by preserving the objectivity of quantitative data analysis without losing detail inherent in qualitative research. However, its use in health services research (HSR) is limited, and questions remain about its application in this context.

OBJECTIVE: To explore the strengths and weaknesses of using QCA for HSR.

RESEARCH DESIGN: Using data from semistructured interviews conducted as part of a multiple case study about adjuvant treatment underuse among underserved breast cancer patients, findings were compared using qualitative approaches with and without QCA to identify strengths, challenges, and opportunities presented by QCA.

SUBJECTS: Ninety administrative and clinical key informants interviewed across 10 NYC area safety net hospitals.

MEASURES: Transcribed interviews were coded by 3 investigators using an iterative and interactive approach. Codes were calibrated for QCA, as well as examined using qualitative analysis without QCA.

RESULTS: Relative to traditional qualitative analysis, QCA strengths include: (1) addressing causal complexity, (2) results presentation as pathways as opposed to a list, (3) identification of necessary conditions, (4) the option of fuzzy-set calibrations, and (5) QCA-specific parameters of fit that allow researchers to compare outcome pathways. Weaknesses include: (1) few guidelines and examples exist for calibrating interview data, (2) not designed to create predictive models, and (3) unidirectionality.

CONCLUSIONS: Through its presentation of results as pathways, QCA can highlight factors most important for production of an outcome. This strength can yield unique benefits for HSR not available through other methods.


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