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Quick and dirty? A systematic review of the use of rapid ethnographies in healthcare organisation and delivery
  1. Cecilia Vindrola-Padros1,
  2. Bruno Vindrola-Padros2
  1. 1 Department of Applied Health Research, University College London, London, UK
  2. 2 Institute of Archaeology, University College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Cecilia Vindrola-Padros, Department of Applied Health Research, University College London, London, UK; c.vindrola{at}


Background The ability to capture the complexities of healthcare practices and the quick turnaround of findings make rapid ethnographies appealing to the healthcare sector, where changing organisational climates and priorities require actionable findings at strategic time points. Despite methodological advancement, there continue to be challenges in the implementation of rapid ethnographies concerning sampling, the interpretation of findings and management of field research. The purpose of this review was to explore the benefits and challenges of using rapid ethnographies to inform healthcare organisation and delivery and identify areas that require improvement.

Methods This was a systematic review of the literature using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines. We used the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool to assess the quality of the articles. We developed the search strategy using the Population, Intervention, Comparison, Outcomes, Settingframework and searched for peer-reviewed articles in MEDLINE, CINAHL PLUS, Web of Science and ProQuest Central. We included articles that reported findings from rapid ethnographies in healthcare contexts or addressing issues related to health service use.

Results 26 articles were included in the review. We found an increase in the use of rapid ethnographies in the last 2‰years. We found variability in terminology and developed a typology to clarify conceptual differences. The studies generated findings that could be used to inform policy and practice. The main limitations of the studies were: the poor quality of reporting of study designs, mainly data analysis methods, and lack of reflexivity.

Conclusions Rapid ethnographies have the potential to generate findings that can inform changes in healthcare practices in a timely manner, but greater attention needs to be paid to the reflexive interpretation of findings and the description of research methods.

Trial registration number CRD42017065874.

  • health services research
  • qualitative research
  • social sciences
  • healthcare quality improvement

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  • Handling editor Mary Dixon-Woods

  • Contributors CVP conceived the idea for the paper. CVP and BVP worked on the review. CVP led on drafting the paper. Both authors contributed substantially to writing the paper and both reviewed and approved the final draft.

  • Funding CVP was in part supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) North Thames at Bartâ’s Health NHS Trust. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval The studies had been approved by the relevant ethics committees.

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

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