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The rationales for and challenges with employing arts-based health services research (ABHSR): a qualitative systematic review of primary studies

Abstract

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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