Results Summary

PCORI funded the Pilot Projects to explore how to conduct and use patient-centered outcomes research in ways that can better serve patients and the healthcare community. Learn more.


Focus groups and individual interviews are two common methods that healthcare researchers use to learn about people’s experiences and opinions. There is little research comparing the usefulness of focus groups and individual interviews.

Project Purpose

The goal of this study was to find out which method—focus groups or individual interviews—is a better way to answer research questions. This study looked at (1) how many focus groups or interviews are needed to get a full list of topics that people raise, and (2) whether focus groups yield different topics than interviews. The researchers studied this by asking questions in focus groups and interviews about how people in the African-American community in Durham, North Carolina, get health information.

Research Methods

The researchers invited African-American men 18 to 64 years old who lived in Durham and spoke English to take part in the study. A total of 364 men joined the study, and 333 of them completed it.

The researchers randomly assigned people to either focus groups or individual interviews. Each focus group had eight people. The researchers asked the same questions of all participants. The questions were about how African-American men get health information from people they know.

The research team created written transcripts of the focus groups and individual interviews. Two people on the research team then reviewed the transcripts individually. The research team compared their analyses and looked at how much and what types of information came from each focus group and individual interview.

The researchers also noted how many focus groups or individual interviews they had to review before they heard the same ideas repeated by participants without any new ideas emerging. The researchers determined how many transcripts they would need to read until they would see 80 percent or 90 percent of the same ideas. They also noted how often participants talked about sensitive personal information.

The researchers compared the cost of getting the same amount of information from focus groups versus individual interviews. Finally, the research team summarized and organized what participants said about how they get health information.


To identify 80 percent of the ideas that participants mentioned, it took eight individual interviews or three focus groups with a total of 24 participants. To identify 90 percent of the ideas, it took 16 individual interviews or five focus groups with a total of 40 people. To reach each level, interviews took more time to complete but cost less overall. To identify all of the ideas that participants mentioned, individual interviews cost 64 to 80 percent as much as focus groups. But people talked more about sensitive personal information in the focus groups than in the individual interviews.

The answers to the questions posed in the interviews and focus groups showed that social relationships influence how African-American men get health information. Different types of social relationships have varying kinds of influence. Some social relationships offer direct support, while others provide indirect messages about health.


The results of the comparison between focus groups and interviews might be different if the study had used a different topic, a different set of questions, or different researchers to review the transcripts, or if the study included people from different backgrounds.

Importance of Findings

Other researchers can use these findings to help them decide whether focus groups or individual interviews would work better for gathering information in a study they are planning. The findings might also help researchers determine how many people they need to include. The findings about the differences in cost between focus groups and individual interviews are different than what people might expect.

Sharing the Results

The ideas mentioned in the focus groups and individual interviews were presented in Durham through a live theater performance in October 2014. Nearly 400 residents and healthcare workers attended. The research team has also published manuscripts in medical journals. (see below)

Project Information

Gregory S. Guest, PhD, MA
Family Health International
Establishing an Evidence Base for Focus Group Research

Key Dates

June 2012
March 2015

Study Registration Information


Has Results
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State State The state where the project originates, or where the primary institution or organization is located. View Glossary
Last updated: March 14, 2024