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Evaluating meta-ethnography: a synthesis of qualitative research on lay experiences of diabetes and diabetes care


  • Campbell, Rona
  • Pound, Pandora
  • Pope, Catherine
  • Britten, Nicky
  • Pill, Roisin
  • Morgan, Myfanwy
  • Donovan, Jenny


Interest in how qualitative health research might be used more widely to inform health policy and medical practice is growing. Synthesising findings from individual qualitative studies may be one method but application of conventional systematic review methodology to qualitative research presents significant philosophical and practical challenges. The aim here was to examine the feasibility of synthesising qualitative research using qualitative methodology including a formative evaluation of criteria for assessing the research to be synthesised. Ten qualitative studies of adult patients' perspectives of diabetes were purposefully selected and questions proposed by the critical appraisal skills programme (CASP) adapted and used to assess papers prior to synthesis. Each study was reviewed independently by two experienced social scientists. The level of agreement between reviewers was determined. Three papers were excluded: one because it turned out not to be qualitative research, one because the quality of the empirical work was poor and one because the qualitative findings reported were also recorded in another paper already included. The synthesis, which had two distinct elements, was conducted using the meta-ethnographic method. Firstly, four papers containing typologies of patient responses to diabetes were synthesised. Secondly, six key concepts were identified from all seven papers as being important in enabling a person with diabetes to achieve a balance in their lives and to attain a sense of well-being and control. These included: time and experience, trust in self, a less subservient approach to care providers, strategic non-compliance with medication, effective support from care providers and an acknowledgement that diabetes is serious. None of the studies included in the synthesis referenced any of the early papers nor did they appear to have taken account of or built upon previous findings. This evaluation confirmed that meta-ethnography can lead to a synthesis and extension of qualitative research in a defined field of study. In addition, from it a practical method of qualitative research assessment evolved. This process is promising but requires further testing and evaluation before it could be recommended for more widespread adoption.

Suggested Citation

  • Campbell, Rona & Pound, Pandora & Pope, Catherine & Britten, Nicky & Pill, Roisin & Morgan, Myfanwy & Donovan, Jenny, 2003. "Evaluating meta-ethnography: a synthesis of qualitative research on lay experiences of diabetes and diabetes care," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 56(4), pages 671-684, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:56:y:2003:i:4:p:671-684

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