How to Investigate the Use of Medicines by Consumers
(2004; 98 pages) Ver el documento en el formato PDF
Índice de contenido
Ver el documentoAcknowledgements
Ver el documentoPreface
Abrir esta carpeta y ver su contenido1. Why study medicines use by consumers
Abrir esta carpeta y ver su contenido2. What influences medicines use by consumers
Cerrar esta carpeta3. How to study medicines use in communities
Ver el documento3.1 Introduction
Ver el documento3.2 Describing and identifying medicines use problems
Ver el documento3.3 Study of documents
Ver el documento3.4 Semi-structured interviews
Ver el documento3.5 Focus group discussions
Ver el documento3.6 Observation techniques
Ver el documento3.7 Structured interviews
Ver el documento3.8 Weekly illness recalls
Abrir esta carpeta y ver su contenido4. Prioritizing and analysing community medicines use problems
Abrir esta carpeta y ver su contenido5. Sampling
Abrir esta carpeta y ver su contenido6. Data analysis
Abrir esta carpeta y ver su contenido7. Monitoring and evaluating rational medicines use interventions in the community
Ver el documentoBack cover

3.4 Semi-structured interviews

Semi-structured interviews are based on the use of an interview guide. This is a written list of questions or topics that need to be covered during the interview. These interviews can help you collect information on:

• local terms for common health problems and types of medicine used

• sources of medicines: where do people go to obtain medicines, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of the various sources, in their view?

• sources of advice: where do people commonly go for advice on day-to-day health care problems?

• perceived drug use problems: what do people and health workers consider to be drug use problems in their communities?

• why people use medicines irrationally

• what the possible solutions are.

How to conduct semi-structured interviews

Semi-structured interviews follow an open and informal interview style. They allow for a listing of health problems using local illness terms and a listing of medicines commonly used, as well as an exploration of problems, the reasons why they occur, and possible solutions. Interviewers can continue to ask questions until they fully understand the situation. Ordinary conversation makes it easier to reassure informants and to win their cooperation and trust.

Make sure that you interview different types of people: a variety of key informants (knowledgeable individuals) - men and women, poor and rich people; and those of different ethnic backgrounds.

Potential key informants in the community are:

• school teachers
• community leaders
• medicine sellers
• nurses, midwives and other health workers who serve the community.

You will need to limit the number of interviews, as semi-structured interviews are quite time-consuming to conduct and analyse. The aim is not to get a representative sample of the various categories of informants, but to gather a substantial body of information from them. Try to limit the list of the people you will interview to around 20-30 who are likely to give you most information on the problem and can choose from a variety of perspectives. You usually only need to interview 3-5 people from each of the identified groups (see also Chapter 5).

When conducting semi-structured interviews, the interviewer is prepared with a list of questions and topics to be discussed. However, the order of the questions and topics is undefined. It depends on the flow of the discussion. It is best to start with a topic that is not sensitive and is important to the respondent. Thus, an informal, friendly atmosphere can be created, facilitating a ‘natural’ flow of ideas and opinions. The researcher acts as a moderator, guiding the respondent from one topic to another. Conducting such interviews requires a skilled moderator.

It is best to do a small pilot study in which the interview guides are pretested, preferably not in the community where the actual study will be done. The best way to conduct a semi-structured interview depends on the communication rules that exist in any given society. Generally the guidelines given in box 5 can help you.


Conducting the interview:

• Greet your informant at the beginning of the interview in a culturally appropriate way.

• Explain the purpose of the interview and ask the informant for consent.

• Explain how the information will be recorded. Ask for permission to tape-record the session if you plan to do so.

• Arrange comfortable seating to facilitate communication.

• Introduce the people present at the interview. The respondent should be asked for permission for all of them to stay.

• Start with a topic that is not sensitive and is important to the respondent. This helps create an informal, friendly atmosphere facilitating a ‘natural’ flow of ideas and opinions.

• Be an “active” listener; look at your informant’s face (not at your interview guide), and always behave in a culturally sensitive way.

• Pick up phrases that the informant uses and use these to phrase your questions. Instruct your translator to do this too.

• Avoid giving opinions or judgements about what the informant says, and treat him/her as an equal.

• Jokes, or friendly gestures towards any small children present can help break the ice.

• Use open-ended questions not closed ones which only allow for ‘yes’ - or - ‘no’ answers.

• Avoid asking leading questions.

• Follow the flow of the discussion, but make sure that all the topics are covered.

• Ask ‘probing’ questions to clarify points or to encourage more explanation.

• Respond to issues raised by your informants, which are not on your interview guide, and probe on these as well.

Thank the informant at the end and give him/her time to ask more questions.

Recording the interview:

• Use ‘telegram-style’ short notes to record the responses of your interviewee but where (s)he uses important terms or interesting expressions record as much as possible of the responses ‘verbatim’ (using the words the informant used). This should also be done if you are tape-recording the interview (sometimes the quality of the recording turns out to be bad).

• Find a balance between taking notes (looking down at the paper) and talking with the respondent; (s)he will feel uncomfortable if you spend too much time writing. If you conduct the interview in pairs, one person can do the interviewing and the other can make notes. Complete the interview record immediately after the interview so you can still recall what was said.

• Observe and make notes on non-verbal communication like silences, laughing, worried expressions, etc.

These interviews should be relatively short. The questions on the checklist should help you find out not only WHAT people do. If you are analysing a specific problem you will want to find out the REASONS WHY the drug practices which you have defined as problematic occur. Limit the questions. The semi-structured interviews will reveal that the drug use problem which you selected as a priority problem, is in fact a set of related sub-problems, with a variety of causes. How to conduct the prioritization analysis of core problems is presented in more depth in Chapter 4.

The recording of in-depth interviews can be done in various ways. The simplest method is to prepare a form which you can use to fill in information on the interview topics. Below are examples of two simple forms (A1 and A2) that you can use to fill in the common health problems mentioned, the types of treatment used, who generally gives advice on these treatments, the source of the treatments, and the advantages and disadvantages of these sources.

A1. Key informant interviews on treatment of common health problems




Type of key informant:



Date of interview:







A2. Advantages and disadvantages of various sources of medicines




Type of key informant:



Date of interview:






You should make extended notes of the drug use problems identified by key informants. It is best to capture the informants’ exact words used to describe the problem as far as possible. If you made a recording of the interview, type the whole text verbatim, including the questions asked (see also Chapter 6 on processing and analysis of qualitative data).

The results of semi-structured interviews are hard to generalise, as they are based on interviews with a limited number of people. Focus group discussions can be used to further validate to what extent the problems identified reflect what people in the community perceive to be problems, and to compare the practices and views of different categories of people. Structured interviews can be done to further quantify key findings.

Strengths and weaknesses of semi-structured interviews

The strengths of semi-structured interviews are:

• depth of information
• respondent can influence the topic, so unexpected issues/topics emerge
• researcher can probe to understand perspectives and experiences
• topic guide ensures that a core list of questions is asked in each interview
• because the order of questions is not fixed, flow and sharing of views are more natural.

The weaknesses of semi-structured interviews are:

• trained interviewers are needed to probe without being directive or judgemental
• analysis of findings is difficult - must be done by people who did the interviews
• researcher has to avoid bias in analysis
• researcher needs to know something of the local culture to capture the interviewees real meaning
• analysis is time-consuming
• difficult to generalize findings.

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