Quality of Life Research

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 359–370 | Cite as

Individual interviews and focus groups in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a comparison of two qualitative methods

  • Michaela Coenen
  • Tanja A. Stamm
  • Gerold StuckiEmail author
  • Alarcos Cieza



To compare two different approaches to performing focus groups and individual interviews, an open approach, and an approach based on the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF).


Patients with rheumatoid arthritis attended focus groups (n = 49) and individual interviews (n = 21). Time, number of concepts, ICF categories identified, and sample size for reaching saturation of data were compared. Descriptive statistics, Chi-square tests, and independent t tests were performed.


With an overall time of 183 h, focus groups were more time consuming than individual interviews (t = 9.782; P < 0.001). In the open approach, 188 categories in the focus groups and 102 categories in the interviews were identified compared to the 231 and 110 respective categories identified in the ICF-based approach. Saturation of data was reached after performing five focus groups and nine individual interviews in the open approach and five focus groups and 12 individual interviews in the ICF-based approach.


The method chosen should depend on the objective of the study, issues related to the health condition, and the study’s participants. We recommend performing focus groups if the objective of the study is to comprehensively explore the patient perspective.


Focus groups Individual interviews Qualitative research Rheumatoid arthritis International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) 



The performance of the focus groups was funded by the German self-help organization “Deutsche Rheuma-Liga e.V.–Bundesverband.” We thank Mrs. Elke Ruschek and Mrs. Sieglinde Stamm for their competent and precise transcribing of the focus groups and individual interviews. We would like to thank all patients who participated in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michaela Coenen
    • 1
  • Tanja A. Stamm
    • 2
  • Gerold Stucki
    • 3
    • 4
    Email author
  • Alarcos Cieza
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Institute for Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Research Unit for Biopsychosocial Health, Ludwig-Maximilians-University MunichGermany
  2. 2.Department of Internal Medicine III, Division of RheumatologyMedical University of ViennaViennaAustria
  3. 3.Department Health Sciences and Health PolicyUniversity of LucerneLuzern 7Switzerland
  4. 4.Swiss Paraplegic Research (SPF)NottwilSwitzerland

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