Funny you should ask! Our experiences facilitating focus groups have affirmed that qualitative research plays an essential role in understanding why fundamental challenges to health exist within communities and the types of tailored solutions that are needed.
CommonHealth ACTION recently partnered with Susan G. Komen® to conduct ten focus groups in the National Capital Region to capture female participants’ perspectives regarding breast cancer education, prevention, and treatment services within their communities. The quantitative data that Susan G. Komen® gathered from the communities of Washington, DC Wards 2, 5, 7, and 8 and Alexandria, VA, showed high and rising breast cancer mortality rates for females of color, but reasoning as to why recent rates were so high was unclear.
In our discussions with the focus group participants, we discovered that fear of painful examination procedures, a lack of awareness around breast health services, an absence of trust for medical providers, and scarce resources were the primary reasons women did not get screened for breast cancer. The focus groups provided a safe space for participants to voice concerns about their bodies and about the challenges they face accessing services. Many participants revealed that community conversations such as those similar to our focus groups were extremely valuable, not only for raising their awareness around available breast health resources, but also for cultivating a support network with other women who share a similar story.
During the focus group conversations, the participants opened up and felt comfortable to share their fears and anxieties regarding breast cancer screening and treatment. They found solace in speaking with other female community members and felt safe discussing their personal experiences as well as those of their friends and family.
If women aren’t being screened for breast cancer, how are they then diagnosed and treated should they actually have the potentially deadly disease? Simple. They’re not. Their concerns go unheard and their symptoms remain undiagnosed. Without this type of forum, the lived experiences of these women would not be known and their stories would remain hidden behind health statistics. While data expressed in numbers lets us know where to focus our efforts, qualitative data provides rich information that helps us to think critically about the most appropriate methods for preventing and treating breast cancer within our communities.