Quick and dirty? A systematic review of the use of rapid ethnographies in healthcare organisation and delivery

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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.


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.


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.


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.

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