The Delphi communications method has become a far reaching and useful approach for many applications, across many sectors, including healthcare. This established communications technique is a systematic process for developing and measuring group consensus. It is used when decisions are required, but empirical evidence may be limited, or divergent. There is no requirement for a face-to-face meeting; so, the process is particularly well suited where input is required from a large number of geographically dispersed participants. While Delphi is regularly used in the healthcare sector, it isn’t universally known or understood, so we’re taking a closer look at the technique and its practical usage in healthcare.
What is The Delphi Method?
The Delphi communication technique is a method of collecting expert opinions on any given research question. It works based on pooled intelligence, helping to enhance individual judgement and, in turn, capturing the consensus of a group of experts.
One of the main benefits of the Delphi method is that where focus groups utilise a group dynamic to initiate debates, the Delphi method does not require the participants to be named, meet in person or be connected in any way. Ultimately, this means it involves anonymised questionnaires.
The questionnaires are sent out in rounds – often referred to as Delphi rounds – to a panel of healthcare professionals with defined experience in the disease area in question. After each round, the expert panel get an aggregated summary of the last round, allowing them to adjust their answers according to the group response. These questionnaire Delphi rounds are completed as often as necessary to achieve an acceptable level of consensus. An example of this is specialists and health system leaders defining best practice for required activities and decisions within a care pathway.
Why Is It Called Delphi Method?
The RAND Corporation originally developed the Delphi communications technique in the 1950s, but just like all research methods, the Delphi technique has evolved since it was first reported on in the 1960s. Norman Dalkey and Olaf Helmer developed the technique to try and gain reliable expert consensus. They named it the Delphi Technique after the Greek Oracle of Delphi, known in ancient Greek legend for predicting the future. The method was developed to promote anonymity and avoid confrontation or opposition between experts.
The original Delphi study was used by the US department of Defense to forecast impact of new technologies on future defence policy. Still, it is easily and effectively applied to many different research questions, including in healthcare, with various studies showing its effectiveness in a wide range of healthcare applications.
Why Should We Be Using The Delphi Method?
In the healthcare sector, Delphi consensus method can be used to positively influence change and help with decision-making at policy level and interdepartmentally.
Delphi studies can help add context (e.g. defining unmet need) for the use of treatments, as well as help to shape guidelines and inform best practice around the decisions that may influence their uptake. Find out how we used Delphi to achieve fast-tracked patient referrals in a specialist setting.
The Advantages & Disadvantages of The Delphi Method
Using the Delphi method has many benefits for healthcare, but some limitations too.
Firstly, the Delphi method is highly effective and regularly used in healthcare due to its ability to rapidly understand, digest and crystalise expert opinion in relation to a clinical need. In seeking to aggregate opinion from a diverse set of experts without bringing them together in a single location, it is able to pool a wider range of high-quality opinion. Anonymity also ensures experts responses are genuine and not influenced by what others have said or shared.
When it comes to disadvantages, the main drawback that may need to be considered is that due to anonymity of responses by experts, there is less opportunity for debate. This means that the approach may not be be well suited if opinions are highly polarised, and in this case may leave researchers considering whether other approaches (such as a systematic evidence review) are more appropriate if a conclusive answer to the research question cannot be reached.
Is The Delphi Method Qualitative or Quantitative?
The Delphi Method is popular because it creates a bridge between qualitative and quantitative data. You can involve as many qualified experts as you like, and when a large panel is used, this provides a high level of confidence based on reliable expert opinion.
Main Reasons You Should Consider Using Delphi Consensus
As the Delphi method uses an approach to aggregate opinions from a diverse set of experts, it is capable of bringing clarity to support decision making and evidence that helps to promote this to others. Healthcare companies can effectively use a Delphi consensus to better define or strengthen the decisions made around their value proposition. Expert level consensus adds real strength to any argument or proposal and Delphi is particularly effective for:
We help many organisations in healthcare with the advice, support and expertise they need to shape effective Delphi studies from initiation to implementation and to build campaigns around this to drive change.