Epistemology and Ontology in Health and Social Research

Topic: Healthcare Research
Words: 2057 Pages: 7

Both epistemology and ontology are crucial parts of the research method design. Understanding these two concepts and differentiating between them can help to decide what kind of research method, qualitative or quantitative, would be the most applicable in the particular research study. The term epistemology originated from the Greek “episteme” and “logos,” which refers to the theory of knowledge, what the knowledge is and how the knowledge is obtained. In contrast, the term “ontology” is mainly concerned with the nature of reality and how the knowledge about the world shapes reality (Crotty, 2020, p. 25). The ontological perspective looks at facts and what exists in reality, while the epistemological perspective looks at what is known and how it is gained.

In the context of health and social care research methodology, epistemology and ontology are no less important. Epistemology is widely applied in the research practices in the health and social care field as it makes it possible to find the most appropriate ways of gaining knowledge about the study. According to Bantjes and Swartz (2017), “epistemology determines the method and how epistemology is made visible through data collection procedures” in the case study of suicide attempters in one of the hospitals (1). On the other hand, in the research studies in the healthcare system, ontology helps to gain knowledge about what is already given in reality. In healthcare research studies, scholars apply realist ontology primarily, working with the idea that there is a single reality that can be studied as a true one. Ontology helps researchers discover what kind of information already exists in reality. From the health and social care research methodology perspective, the epistemological paradigm is concerned with obtaining professional knowledge in the field of study.

Meanwhile, ontology refers to personal knowledge about the real situation, social context, and norms. For example, in the study conducted in 2019 by Moreno-Conde et al. in the field of the healthcare system, ontology is used to “identify how the multiple ideas generated in healthcare centers evolve towards generating new products and services. Moreover, the ontology includes concepts associated with managing innovation, resources, employees, dissemination, and intellectual and industrial properties” (Moreno-Conde et al., 2019, p. 7).

The role of research studies conducted in the health and social care system is substantial as they provide answers to unresolved problems and are inextricably connected with the development in this sphere. This causation can be explained by the researchers’ ceaseless effort to improve people’s lives. For this purpose, scholars in their research methodologies use primarily two types of research methods, qualitative and quantitative. However, these two approaches consist of a range of paradigms within them. In the healthcare system, the research study’s main approach is the qualitative method due to its applicability to the investigation and participants involved, taking into account limited time and resources (Bradshaw et al., 201, p. 1). The qualitative research method tries to explain the reasons for a particular phenomenon and describe its nature and implications. As the field of social and healthcare systems works particularly with individuals and is concerned with their problems, the qualitative research method can assist in the research study in this context, providing the focus on their interests and needs through questionnaires and interviews (Bradshaw, 2017, p. 6).

In the research paper by Business Bliss Consultants FZE (2020), they tried to compare qualitative and quantitative research methods applied in the study of the healthcare system, using two case studies, and determine the possible drawbacks and benefits of each of the research methods. The first paper, called ‘Swab and instrument count practice: ways to enhance patient safety by Smith and Burke (2014), was conducted using the quantitative research method. In this methodological approach, the important part of the research plan is a careful review of the research literature on the topic and the development of the accurate hypothesis that the researcher will work on. The second research paper, ‘An exploration of Operating Department Practice Student experiences of placement support during their first perioperative clinical placement’ by Hinton (2016), is mainly qualitative research, which was conducted in the form of interviews with a focus group. Both of these papers are concerned with the issues related to the healthcare system, i.e., nursing exactly; however, they utilized different research methodologies, which can help demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of each research approach (Business Bliss Consultants FZE, 2020).

In the first case study, there was an observation of the “swab and instruments count” in the operating environment. The researchers conducted a quantitative investigation through the questionnaires with open-ended and Likert-style questions, where participants had to choose one of the answers on a satisfaction scale. This survey allowed the researchers to gather data about the working environment in the operating theatre. Along with this, the researchers could observe 15 different randomly chosen surgery operations in this hospital. Finally, the researchers took into account the development opportunities provided in this hospital to see whether these worker improvements will be reflected in their work (Business Bliss Consultants FZE, 2020). Using three different quantitative approaches in the study gave the researchers a much wider range of data that helped them to draw a more accurate conclusion. One of the key findings of this research was that the development of the workers led to fewer cases of inaccuracies in the operating environment.

On the other hand, the second case study was primarily concerned with the feelings and impressions of the newly Operating Department Practice students during the first clinical placement of their perioperative experience. This research used the qualitative methodology, asking Operating Department Practice students to form a focus group and answer the questions about their first experience immediately after the clinical placement. By conducting a question-answer session, the researchers could get detailed information about students’ feelings and experiences and save time and resources. The main goal of this research was to find out what would help improve the first clinical placement experience of the Operating Department Practice students.

In the contexts of the abovementioned studies, both of these researches have their strengths and weaknesses. According to the Business Bliss Consultants FZE (2020), the first research on the swab and instruments count in the theatre has fewer drawbacks and more benefits than the second study. Quantitative research possesses several benefits, including its administration and evaluation fast. In other words, the quantitative research method does not require any prior organization before conducting the survey. The quantitative approach can enable the research findings to be applicable across several hospitals. In addition, as the answers for the questionnaires come in a standardized way, they are much easier and less time-consuming to process within the given research frame (Business Bliss Consultants FZE, 2020). The numeral data gathered in this kind of quantitative research can be applied across other healthcare system organizations, facilitating further study in this field.

Nevertheless, there are some shortcomings in this quantitative research method as well. For example, the investigated sample group is quite small, which does not allow generalizing the findings in this field to other hospitals. As the number of participants, consisting of trained and qualified staff members, was not large, the study’s validity can also be undermined.

In the case of the qualitative research method used in the second paper, the conducted study on the Operating Department Practice students’ experience on their first clinical placement required much more analytical work and prior preparation, organization, and methodology selection. Moreover, in the case of the second study, there was a higher chance of bias while analysing and processing the data. There is a belief that the qualitative research methodology is more prone to bias and subjectivity than the quantitative approach, which does not allow qualitative research findings to be generalizable (Business Bliss Consultants FZE, 2020).

While planning the research study in the context of health and social care, taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of each research method, I believe that the most appropriate research paradigm that will lead to more accurate results is a quantitative research method. The fact that the quantitative research method is distinguished with its high objectivity compared to the qualitative approach enables the researcher to draw more feasible conclusions and process accurate data. As the obtained data is primarily numerical, it can also be compared with the results of other findings so that the data can be more generalizable. Another important aspect is the fast data collection opportunity. The results can be analysed much faster by processing the numerical data with a statistically valid random model.

The epistemology of the research study that I would conduct in the health and social care field will be concerned with how I will prove the certain theory or hypothesis, what kind of research methods will be utilized, and how it will contribute toward reality. From the epistemological perspective, the quantitative research approach will be applied in my research study to obtain knowledge about the hypothesis and theory. The ontology of my study will be concerned with a good understanding of the topic and background as well as the reasons why the research is conducted.

Data analysis is essential for every research study that comes after choosing the appropriate research methodology and gathering the results. This process can be described as cleaning and extracting valuable and necessary information to draw a proper and exact conclusion (Crotty, 2020, p. 53). Data goes through several steps during the data analysis before it reaches the decision-making process. These steps are identifying the research question and choosing the research methodology, collecting the information connected with the research question, cleaning the raw data and formatting it, analysing the data using different techniques and methods, and finally interpreting the actual results of the analysis. Data analysis and accuracy in the process of its conduction directly affect the validity of the finding, so every phase should be carefully followed.

Choosing the appropriate technique for analysing the data is also very important. There are four main types of techniques used in data analysis: descriptive analysis, diagnostic analysis, predictive analysis, and prescriptive analysis (Crotty, 2020, p. 54). The descriptive analysis tries to illustrate the particular phenomena and is widely used in quantitative research. Applying primarily statistical data, it tries to answer the question, “What happened?” The diagnostic analysis, on the other hand, is mainly concerned with explaining a particular phenomenon, i.e., trying to find the reason and trigger of it. In other words, the diagnostic analysis tries to answer the question, “Why did this happen?” Both predictive and prescriptive analyses are concerned with the future. While predictive analysis tries to predict what might happen in the future according to the given data, prescriptive analysis draws more attention to what should be done about it.

The data analysis process also differs from the qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. The quantitative approach works mainly with numerical data; the information is analysed using statistics, averages, and means via special machines and research frames. Meanwhile, the qualitative approach requires much more work to analyse due to the gathered data’s peculiarity. During the data analysis stage, the basic information obtained from the surveys and questionnaires should be categorized, which requires a manual and more complex analysis.

Using the example of the abovementioned article by Business Bliss Consultants FZE (2020), it can be seen how data analysis is assimilated in the context of health and social care research. For example, in the case of the first paper on swab and instrument counts, the researchers used the statistical approach, looking at each set of answers in the questionnaires. Then, all the answers were gathered and categorized in one statistical framework to get numerical data. In the case of this paper, the data range was not quite large due to the study sample; thus, the data analysis required far less time. On the other hand, the data analysis used in the second paper took more time as the researchers applied a qualitative approach. According to Business Bliss consultants FZE (2020), “Paper B had a very thorough approach to analyzing the information firstly the authors read the transcript of the focus group several times to give familiarity, they then followed a framework […] which allows them to reveal emergent themes and their interwoven relationships”. The data analysis was performed using the seven-stage framework that enabled them to interpret the raw data, which the researchers got during the question-answer session.


Bantjes J., & Swartz, L., (2017). Epistemology and ethnography in health systems research. In SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 2. SAGE Publications, Ltd.

Bradshaw, C., Atkinson, S., & Doody, O. (2017). Employing a qualitative description approach in health care research. Global Qualitative Nursing Research, 4, 1-8.

Business Bliss Consultants FZE. (2020). Research methods in health and social care – Comparative methodologies assignment. NursingAnswers.net.

Crotty, M. (2020). Foundations of social research: Meaning and perspective in the research process. Taylor & Francis.

Moreno-Conde, A., Parra-Calderón, C. L., Sánchez-Seda, S., Escobar-Rodríguez, G., López-Otero, M., Cussó, L., Del-Cerro-García, R., Segura-Sánchez, M., Herrero-Urigüen, L., Martí-Ras, N., Albertí-Ibarz, M., & Desco, M. (2019). ITEMAS ontology for healthcare technology innovation. Health Research Policy and Systems, 17(47), 1-10.

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