Focus groups in health disparities research: Lessons learned from an HIV prevention program with hispanic young adults Book Chapter

Fernandez, S, Clarke, R, Howard, M et al. (2018). Focus groups in health disparities research: Lessons learned from an HIV prevention program with hispanic young adults . 4 131-152.

cited authors

  • Fernandez, S; Clarke, R; Howard, M; Morris, S; Hospital, M; Wagner, EF


  • Community-based research (CBR) methods are essential for addressing the social, structural, and environmental factors that contribute to health disparities among underrepresented yet disproportionately affected minority groups. CBR enriches project implementation and the research process by involving community members in all project phases, leading to insights and health enhancements, and program sustainability not otherwise obtainable. Research aimed at alleviating persistent health disparities, particularly targeting behavioral health and preventable diseases, requires deliberate and direct involvement of the population of interest in order to be most effective and promote sustained change. In CBR, key stakeholders are actively involved and engaged in the research process from the start. These stakeholders have a direct impact on the decisions made in the design, implementation, and evaluation of projects. Conducting focus groups can be an effective way to involve the population of interest in the research process. Focus groups give community members the opportunity to recount experiences, share insights, and engage in dialogue with other community members and the researchers with whom they are partnering. Focus groups can be particularly helpful when dealing with racial, ethnic or sexual minority groups, whose experiences often do not mirror the experiences of those from the dominant culture. Furthermore, focus groups can inform researchers about how specific minority subgroups of individuals receive and exchange health information that they find credible and impactful. Such knowledge is critical for the successful dissemination of health information using social media and networking technologies, given the fast pace of change and the immense popularity of these communication tools among young adults. Focus groups can help ensure that the needs of underrepresented and rapidly changing populations are understood, that projects are culturally and linguistically appropriate and relevant, and that trust and communication between researchers and community members is established and maintained. This chapter describes focus groups conducted as part of a federally-funded University CBR partnership program for preventing HIV and substance abuse among Hispanic emerging adults in Miami-Dade County. Miami-Dade County has the highest rates of HIV infection in the U. S. Using a real-world example, this chapter will discuss how employing focus groups provided the opportunity to 1) check cultural assumptions, 2) assess and prioritize areas of greatest perceived need, 3) tailor campaigns and outreach to the key values and beliefs of population of focus, and 4) understand and capitalize on social media and other communication favored by the population of focus to reduce health disparities. This chapter also offer suggestions as to how focus groups can be used as an instrumental technique to contributing to the success of CBR partnerships aimed at promoting health equity and alleviating health disparities, specifically related to HIV, among minority communities.

publication date

  • January 1, 2018

International Standard Book Number (ISBN) 13

start page

  • 131

end page

  • 152


  • 4