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Open Access Research article

Methodological reflections on using pilot data from fracture patients to develop a qualitative study

Renée Otmar1*, Mark A Kotowicz2, Geoffrey C Nicholson3 and Julie A Pasco124

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, Northwest Academic Centre, Western Section, The University of Melbourne, Sunshine Hospital, 176 Furlong Road, St Albans Victoria 3021, Australia

2 Department of Medicine, Barwon Health, PO Box 281, Geelong, Victoria 3220, Australia

3 Rural Clinical School, School of Medicine, The University of Queensland, Private Mail Bag 2, Toowoomba, Queensland 4350, Australia

4 Barwon Epidemiology and Biostatistics Unit, School of Medicine, Deakin University, PO Box 281, Geelong, Victoria 3220, Australia

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:508  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-508

Published: 23 November 2011



Qualitative studies are particularly valued for their exploratory nature but, like other research methods, they do require careful planning to ensure rigorous study design. Our objective was to undertake a pilot study to inform the development of a larger qualitative study.


We conducted a series of brief interviews with out-patients in a hospital setting. The interviews were designed to elicit superficial information about whether (and how) post-fracture osteoporosis investigation and/or treatment were being initiated among patients receiving treatment or follow-up for a current or recent fracture. We used thematic analysis to identify key themes in the data that related to the broader research questions.

We analysed data obtained from 11 out of a total of 12 interviews conducted. Participants were male and female, aged 19-83 years of age (median age 57 years). Participants attended 2-8 medical appointments to seek treatment and follow up for a current or recent fracture. The following four overarching themes emerged from thematic analysis of the data: fracture event, referral pathway, osteoporosis investigation and/or treatment, and communication by health practitioners and staff.


This pilot study was necessarily tentative and exploratory in nature, but provided a helpful snapshot of some typical experiences in the public health system following fracture. Several themes emerged for consideration in the design of the main study.

Despite its critics, theoretical sampling and saturation continue to provide sustainable methods for ensuring that relevant themes and categories are covered in sufficient depth and breadth, appropriate to the needs of the study.