The following abstract is from an article in BMC Medical Research Methodology of the use of bulletin boards to reach cancer patients, specifically pediatric patients.  We have conducted QualBoard studies among physicians and patients for many years and found the methodology to be very effective because of its asynchronous nature and, in many cases, the anonymity the technique affords. 

Online focus groups as a tool to collect data in hard-to-include populations: Examples from paediatric oncology

The purpose of this article is to describe and evaluate the methodology of online focus group discussions within the setting of paediatric oncology.

Methods: Qualitative study consisting of moderated asynchronous online discussion groups with 7 paediatric cancer patients (aged 8-17), 11 parents, and 18 survivors of childhood cancer (aged 8-17 at diagnosis).

Results: All three participant groups could be actively engaged over a one-week period. Respondents highly valued the flexibility and convenience of logging in at their own time and place to join the group discussion.

Adolescent patients and survivors emphasized that the anonymity experienced made them feel comfortable to express their views in detail. The findings indicate a strong preference for online group discussions across all participant groups.

Conclusions: The findings show that online focus group methodology is a feasible tool for collecting qualitative data within the setting of paediatric oncology, and may offer new opportunities to collect data in other hard-to-include populations.

The evaluations seem to indicate that the online group discussions have given participants an opportunity to articulate their experiences and views in a way that they might not have done in a traditional group discussion. KEY WORDS: focus groups; Internet; paediatric cancer; feasibility; qualitative research

Author: Kiek Tates, Marieke Zwaanswijk, Roel Otten, Sandra van Dulmen, Peter M Hoogerbrugge, Willem A Kamps and Jozien M Bensing

To download the entire article go to http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2288/9/15/abstract.