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The appropriate uses of qualitative methods in health economics


  • Joanna Coast

    (Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK)


Ontology, epistemology and methodology are not subjects frequently discussed in health economics, yet they are of great relevance to the question of how, or whether, to use qualitative methods as a means of examining certain issues. The paper discusses the nature of enquiry in health economics and then details the nature of qualitative methods and the constructivist philosophy with which they are most commonly associated. The paper continues by examining different areas in the study of economics: neo-classical positive economics, alternative approaches to explanatory economics and normative welfare economics. For each area the philosophical approach is outlined as are the areas of research interest. Appropriate roles for qualitative methods within these philosophical approaches are then suggested. The paper concludes by warning that health economists should not use qualitative methods naively. They must be aware of the potential difficulties: both of inadvertently ending up outside the intended research philosophy and of conducting research which is accepted by neither economists nor qualitative researchers. If, however, health economists are aware of ontological, epistemological and methodological issues, they can make an informed decision about the appropriateness of qualitative methods in their research and thereby potentially enhance their ability to answer the questions in which they are interested. Copyright © 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Suggested Citation

  • Joanna Coast, 1999. "The appropriate uses of qualitative methods in health economics," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 8(4), pages 345-353.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:hlthec:v:8:y:1999:i:4:p:345-353
    DOI: 10.1002/(SICI)1099-1050(199906)8:4<345::AID-HEC432>3.0.CO;2-Q

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Rosenberg, Alexander, 1992. "Economics--Mathematical Politics or Science of Diminishing Returns?," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 1, number 9780226727233, July.
    2. Robinson, Angela & Dolan, Paul & Williams, Alan, 1997. "Valuing health status using VAS and TTO: What lies behind the numbers?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 45(8), pages 1289-1297, October.
    3. Culyer, A J & Simpson, Heather, 1980. "Externality Models and Health: A Ruckblick over the Last Twenty Years," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 56(154), pages 222-230, September.
    4. Lindsay, Cotton M, 1969. "Medical Care and the Economics of Sharing," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 36(144), pages 351-362, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. Joanna Coast, 2001. "Citizens, their agents and health care rationing: an exploratory study using qualitative methods," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 10(2), pages 159-174.
    2. Russell, Steven & Gilson, Lucy, 2006. "Are health services protecting the livelihoods of the urban poor in Sri Lanka? Findings from two low-income areas of Colombo," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 63(7), pages 1732-1744, October.
    3. De Allegri, Manuela & Sanon, Mamadou & Sauerborn, Rainer, 2006. ""To enrol or not to enrol?": A qualitative investigation of demand for health insurance in rural West Africa," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 62(6), pages 1520-1527, March.
    4. Mitchell, Paul Mark & Roberts, Tracy E. & Barton, Pelham M. & Coast, Joanna, 2015. "Assessing sufficient capability: A new approach to economic evaluation," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 139(C), pages 71-79.
    5. Karimi, M. & Brazier, J. & Paisley, S., 2017. "How do individuals value health states? A qualitative investigation," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 172(C), pages 80-88.
    6. David Kernick, 2002. "Health economics: an evolving paradigm but sailing in the wrong direction? A view from the front line," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 11(1), pages 87-88.
    7. De Allegri, Manuela & Sanon, Mamadou & Bridges, John & Sauerborn, Rainer, 2006. "Understanding consumers' preferences and decision to enrol in community-based health insurance in rural West Africa," Health Policy, Elsevier, vol. 76(1), pages 58-71, March.
    8. Neale Smith & Craig Mitton & Stuart Peacock, 2009. "Qualitative methodologies in health-care priority setting research," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 18(10), pages 1163-1175.
    9. Patten, San & Mitton, Craig & Donaldson, Cam, 2006. "Using participatory action research to build a priority setting process in a Canadian Regional Health Authority," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 63(5), pages 1121-1134, September.
    10. Elias Asfaw Zegeye & Josue Mbonigaba & Sylvia Blanche Kaye & Thomas Wilkinson, 2017. "Economic Evaluation in Ethiopian Healthcare Sector Decision Making: Perception, Practice and Barriers," Applied Health Economics and Health Policy, Springer, vol. 15(1), pages 33-43, February.
    11. Lenger, Alexander & Kruse, Jan, 2012. "Rekonstruktive Forschungsmethoden in der deutschen Volkswirtschaftslehre: Eine explorative Erhebung zugrunde liegender Repräsentationsmuster," The Constitutional Economics Network Working Papers 02-2012, University of Freiburg, Department of Economic Policy and Constitutional Economic Theory.
    12. repec:spr:pharme:v:35:y:2017:i:6:d:10.1007_s40273-017-0499-z is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Mandy Ryan & Verity Watson & Vikki Entwistle, 2009. "Rationalising the 'irrational': a think aloud study of discrete choice experiment responses," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 18(3), pages 321-336.
    14. Natasha Palmer & Anne Mills, 2003. "Classical versus relational approaches to understanding controls on a contract with independent GPs in South Africa," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 12(12), pages 1005-1020.

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