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Literature Reviews

Literature reviews are one of the preliminary ways we gain an overview of what patients, families and providers deal with in the midst of a health crisis. Articles describing the fears, frustrations, problems and questions patients experience are invaluable to the beginning stages of a needs assessment.

Literature reviews allow us to draw from the expertise, experience and research of others in the field to gain some sense for what we might expect when conducting further needs assessments. The material also familiarizes us with the language and terminology related to the issue. This is particularly helpful when understanding medical issues.

NOTE: At CHESS, we never depend solely on literature to identify patients' needs. Available literature is usually written by medical experts and researchers, not by patients themselves, and are driven by the research goals of the writer(s). We believe literature reviews must always be superceded by actual conversation with patients and their families to gain a deeper, more representative view of the issues they deal with.

We often conduct literature reviews just before or at the same time as in-depth interviews and nominal group discussions.

Before Beginning a Needs Assessment Literature Review:

  • Identify experts in the field. Ask for recommendations of excellent articles they have read on the subject. This can save time if you do not have access to large bibliography databases. They can also point you to reputable professional journals and books on the subject.
  • Search library index databases by keyword. This is helpful for locating more obscure articles, but be braced for overwhelmingly large lists (particularly if you generate a search using a general keyword, for example "asthma").
  • Include some non-mainstream references for alternative perspectives. Select ones that address the issue in creative ways.

Refining the Search

  1. Abstracts give a good amount of information and provide a basis for selecting which articles meet your criteria.
  2. Skimming through a reputable journal on the subject can also generate some good references.
  3. Choose no more than 20 best articles that reflect the kind of information you are looking for.

Identifying Needs

  1. Skim through all the selected articles. Carefully read four or five of the best.
  2. Approach each piece with a defining question that will help you identify explicit or implicit needs (fears, frustrations, anxieties, problems.) Example: "What is it like to live with someone who has asthma?"
  3. When you come across anything that answers the defining question, highlight and note it down.
  4. Generate a list of identified needs from your readings.

We combine what we have learned from the literature reviews with the lists of needs gathered from in-depth interviews and nominal group discussions. This combined list of needs will form the "straw model" for designing a needs assessment survey.

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