28/11/2022 - Last update 30/11/2022

Qualitative studies

[reading time: 5 minutes]

These methods collect information through individual or group interviews (focus group) and analyze the data according to different approaches, with the aim to provide an interpretation of the believable, generalizable and reliable reality.

Different ways of conducting a qualitative study have been developed depending on the research question, for example:

  • The Grounded Theory study is adopted in order to observe and understand the processes underlying a certain phenomenon and ultimately generate a theory. This approach explores social phenomena through the development of theories grounded in the practical experiences of the participants, observed and analyzed by the researcher. The theory does not precede the research but comes from it gradually while the data are analyzed through comparative and generative processes.
  • The Delphi Panel study aims at answering a question through a view shared by a panel of experts, with the objective to find a reliable convergence of opinions, finalized at maximizing a decision-making process. The members of the panel are interviewed several times. In respect of anonymity, at the end of each interview the participants can read the opinions of the others and modify their own initial evaluations. In this way some information on various aspects of a phenomenon is collected while its complexity is analyzed.
  • The Focus Group study is based on an interview addressed to a restricted group of people which allows to deepen a specific theme or particular aspects of a topic. The interviewer asks some questions, however, he or she does not seek an individual answer from each participant, but he or she instead lets the answers come from the interactions and feedback within the group. This approach is used when the researcher intends to analyze different points of view on one subject, in order to trace the trends in a representative sample of the population.

The researcher gathers the preliminary material for the study, which may consist of transcripts, recordings, author’s notes, project management journals.

The explanation of the collected data is the result of the researcher’s interpretation. He or she can initiate the analysis process also during the data collection process, in this way sometimes they can recalibrate their questions and develop new hypotheses that can then be studied in subsequent investigations. The process of association and categorization of the collected data is generally inductive.

The strategies to gather and communicate the data related to a qualitative study have been codified according to different recommendations, including the SRQR1 and the COREQ2, which propose checklists useful also for those who want to evaluate the quality of a study already carried out.

Although different parameters are adopted compared to the quantitative studies, also the qualitative studies have to conform to rigorous methodological criteria, for example great importance is conferred to the following characteristics:

  • credibility, that is the researcher’s accuracy in interpreting the data;
  • transferability, that is the possibility to generalize the results to other populations or contexts;
  • conformability, that is the possibility to demonstrate that the results obtained are linked to the data collected;
  • reliability, that consists in a realistic interpretation of the participants’ opinions.

Although qualitative research is not widespread in the osteopathic field, it can allow the evaluation of many relevant aspects of its research, for example those related to the patients’ perception of the safety and pleasantness of the treatment, or those related to the practitioner’s attitude.

Without any claim to completeness, here are some examples:

  • Steel et al.3, carried out in 2018 regarding the perceptions and experiences of OMT in 16 oncological patients undergoing palliative care;
  • Diniz et al.4, a brief report of 2014 about a clinical case of a patient with gastroesophageal reflux;
  • Kasiri-Martino & Bright5, carried out in 2016 on nine osteopaths professionally active, in order to understand how much importance they conferred to the osteopathic philosophical principles, both as such and in the context of the professional community;
  • Lunghi et al.6, a study carried out in 202 on eight Italian osteopaths in relation to the role of osteopathy in the context of collaborative health care and in relation to both the osteopaths’ clinical diagnostic reasoning and the osteopathic treatment in the neonatal and pediatric field;
  • Consorti et al.7, a study carried out in 2020 on 12 participants in order to evaluate the perspective of the patient with regard to what makes an osteopathic treatment effective.

For further in-depth analysis please refer to the volume edited by Francesco Cerritelli and Diego Lanaro8.


  1. O’Brien BC, Harris IB, Beckman TJ, Reed DA, Cook DA. Standards for reporting qualitative research: a synthesis of recommendations. Acad Med. 2014 Sep;89(9):1245-51.
  2. Tong A, Sainsbury P, Craig J. Consolidated criteria for reporting qualitative research (COREQ): a 32-item checklist for interviews and focus groups. Int J Qual Health Care. 2007 Dec;19(6):349-57.
  3. Steel A, Tricou C, Monsarrat T, Ruer M, Deslandes C, Sisoix C, Filbet M. The perceptions and experiences of osteopathic treatment among cancer patients in palliative care: a qualitative study. Support Care Cancer. 2018 Oct;26(10):3627-3633.
  4. Diniz LR, Nesi J, Curi AC, Martins W. Qualitative evaluation of osteopathic manipulative therapy in a patient with gastroesophageal reflux disease: a brief report. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2014 Mar;114(3):180-8.
  5. Kasiri-Martino H, Bright P. Osteopathic educators’ attitudes towards osteopathic principles and their application in clinical practice: A qualitative inquiry. Man Ther. 2016 Feb;21:233-40.
  6. Lunghi C, Iacopini A, Baroni F, Consorti G, Cerritelli F. Thematic Analysis of Attitudes Held by a Group of Italian Osteopaths Toward Osteopathic Evaluation, Treatment, and Management in the Neonatal and Pediatric Field: A Qualitative Study. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2021 Feb;44(2):164-175.
  7. Consorti G, Marchetti A, De Marinis MG. What Makes an Osteopathic Treatment Effective From a Patient’s Perspective: A Descriptive Phenomenological Study. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2020 Nov-Dec;43(9):882-890.
  8. Cerritelli F, Lanaro D. Elementi di ricerca in osteopatia e terapie manuali. Napoli: Edises, 2018.



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