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The rationales for and challenges with employing arts-based health services research (ABHSR): a qualitative systematic review of primary studies
  1. Umair Majid1,
  2. Sujane Kandasamy2
  1. 1 Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  2. 2 Health Research Methods, Evidence & Impact, Health Research Methdology PhD Program, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Umair Majid, -, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; umair.majid{at}


Health services research (HSR) is an interdisciplinary field that investigates and improves the design and delivery of health services from individual, group, organisational and system perspectives. HSR examines complex problems within health systems. Qualitative research plays an important role in aiding us to develop a nuanced understanding of patients, family, healthcare providers, teams and systems. However, the overwhelming majority of HSR publications using qualitative research use traditional methods such as focus groups and interviews. Arts-based research—artistic and creative forms of data collection such as dance, drama and photovoice—have had limited uptake in HSR due to the lack of clarity in the methods, their rationales and potential impacts. To address this uncertainty, we conducted a qualitative systematic review of studies that have employed arts-based research in HSR topics. We searched four databases for peer-reviewed, primary HSR studies. Using conventional content analysis, we analysed the rationales for using arts-based approaches in 42 primary qualitative studies. We found four rationales for using arts-based approaches for HSR: (1) Capture aspects of a topic that may be overlooked, ignored or not conceptualised by other methods (ie, quantitative and interview-based qualitative methods). (2) Allow participants to reflect on their own experiences. (3) Generate valuable community knowledge to inform intervention design and delivery. (4) Formulate research projects that are more participatory in nature. This review provides health services researchers with the tools, reasons, rationales and justifications for using arts-based methods. We conclude this review by discussing the practicalities of making arts-based approaches commensurable to HSR.

  • arts in health/arts and health

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Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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  • Contributors UM and SK conceptualised the study. UM conducted the systematic search. UM and SK completed both levels of article screening, analysed the data, and wrote and revised the manuscript. Both authors approved the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.