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Online focus groups as a tool to collect data in hard-to-include populations: examples from paediatric oncology

Kiek Tates1*, Marieke Zwaanswijk1, Roel Otten1, Sandra van Dulmen1, Peter M Hoogerbrugge2, Willem A Kamps3 and Jozien M Bensing14

Author affiliations

1 NIVEL (Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research), P.O. Box 1568, 3500 BN Utrecht, the Netherlands

2 Department of Paediatric Hemato-Oncology, University Medical Centre St Radboud, Nijmegen, the Netherlands

3 Department of Paediatric Oncology, University Medical Centre Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands

4 Department of Clinical and Health Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Utrecht University, the Netherlands

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Citation and License

BMC Medical Research Methodology 2009, 9:15  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-9-15

Published: 3 March 2009



The purpose of this article is to describe and evaluate the methodology of online focus group discussions within the setting of paediatric oncology.


Qualitative study consisting of separate moderated asynchronous online discussion groups with 7 paediatric cancer patients (aged 8–17), 11 parents, and 18 survivors of childhood cancer (aged 8–17 at diagnosis).


All three participant groups could be actively engaged over a one-week period. Respondents highly valued the flexibility and convenience of logging in at their own time and place to join the discussion. Adolescent patients and survivors emphasized that the anonymity experienced made them feel comfortable to express their views in detail. The findings indicate a strong preference for online group discussions across all participant groups.


The findings show that online focus group methodology is a feasible tool for collecting qualitative data within the setting of paediatric oncology, and may offer new opportunities to collect data in other hard-to-include populations. The evaluations seem to indicate that the online group discussions have given participants an opportunity to articulate their experiences and views in a way they might not have done in a traditional group discussion.