WhatsApp-based focus groups among mexican-origin women in zika risk area: Feasibility, acceptability, and data quality

Elizabeth Anderson, Mary Koss, Ana Lucía Castro Luque, David Garcia, Elise Lopez, Kacey Ernst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Despite unprecedented advances in worldwide access to the internet via smartphones, barriers to engaging hard-to-reach populations remain in many methods of health research. A potential avenue for conducting qualitative research is via participatory web-based media, including the free, popular social platform WhatsApp. However, despite the clear advantages of engaging with participants over a well-established web-based platform, logistical challenges remain. Objective: This study aims to report evidence on the feasibility and acceptability of WhatsApp as a method to conduct focus groups. Methods: A pilot focus group was conducted with Spanish-speaking women near the US-Mexico border. The content focus was knowledge and perceived risks for exposure to the Zika virus during pregnancy. Results: Evidence was obtained regarding WhatsApp as a low-cost, logistically feasible methodology that resulted in rich qualitative data from a population that is often reticent to engage in traditional research. A total of 5 participants participated in a focus group, of whom all 5 consistently contributed to the focus group chat in WhatsApp, which was conducted over 3 consecutive days. Conclusions: The findings are noteworthy at a time when face-to-face focus groups, the gold standard, are risky or precluded by safe COVID-19 guidelines. Other implications include more applications and evaluations of WhatsApp for delivering one-on-one or group health education interventions on sensitive topics. This paper outlines the key steps and considerations for the replication or adaptation of methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere20970
JournalJMIR Formative Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Focus groups
  • MHealth
  • Mexican-origin latinas
  • Mobile phone
  • Smartphones
  • Social media
  • Synchronous text-based focus groups
  • WhatsApp
  • Zika

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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