Challenges of Using the Story Completion Method to Research Clinical Encounters


Story completion is a creative qualitative method in which participants are invited to write a story in response to a prompt or scenario (a story “stem”). In writing a story, participants are assumed to draw on their personal and social sense-making repertoires to fill in the gaps of the story, which can then be analyzed utilizing a range of qualitative approaches. This case study provides an overview of the use of story completion to understand clinical encounters in which the novel HIV prevention drug, pre-exposure prophylaxis, is prescribed. Story completion formed one component of a larger, qualitative study. In reflecting on the design of appropriate story stems and our strategies for recruitment, we offer insights regarding the challenges of using story completion, including difficulties with recruiting professionals and clinicians. Many of the responses we received from participants read more like clinical case studies or examination answers than stories, prompting us to reflect on what constitutes “quality” data for this type of research method. While story completion is a promising method—and undoubtedly could be utilized to explore sense-making in health care encounters—it is likely to be an unfamiliar method to many participants, and it may be resource-intensive to ensure a sufficient sample size for analysis. In conclusion, we offer recommendations for conducting a successful story completion study and considerations for future studies to optimize the method.

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