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Open Access Open Badges Correspondence

Developing longitudinal qualitative designs: lessons learned and recommendations for health services research

Lynn Calman1, Lisa Brunton1 and Alex Molassiotis12*

Author Affiliations

1 University of Manchester, Jean McFarlane Building, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL, UK

2 Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Hong Kong

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2013, 13:14  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-13-14

Published: 6 February 2013



Longitudinal qualitative methods are becoming increasingly used in the health service research, but the method and challenges particular to health care settings are not well described in the literature.We reflect on the strategies used in a longitudinal qualitative study to explore the experience of symptoms in cancer patients and their carers, following participants from diagnosis for twelve months; we highlight ethical, practical, theoretical and methodological issues that need to be considered and addressed from the outset of a longitudinal qualitative study.


Key considerations in undertaking longitudinal qualitative projects in health research, include the use of theory, utilizing multiple methods of analysis and giving consideration to the practical and ethical issues at an early stage. These can include issues of time and timing; data collection processes; changing the topic guide over time; recruitment considerations; retention of staff; issues around confidentiality; effects of project on staff and patients, and analyzing data within and across time.


As longitudinal qualitative methods are becoming increasingly used in health services research, the methodological and practical challenges particular to health care settings need more robust approaches and conceptual improvement. We provide recommendations for the use of such designs. We have a particular focus on cancer patients, so this paper will have particular relevance for researchers interested in chronic and life limiting conditions.

Cancer; Health care; Users’ experiences; Interviews; Longitudinal studies; Research; Qualitative; Research design; Serial interview