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Developing a Care Opinion research community

By Professor Rebecca Lawton – Director of the NIHR Yorkshire and Humber PSTRC

The experiences of patients are increasingly being sought by health and social care organisations and, perhaps less frequently, used to make improvements.

These experiences come in different forms – as ratings on questionnaire items, informal feedback sought by staff or stories volunteered by patients and their families. Care Opinion provides an opportunity for the latter. This not-for-profit organisation provides a platform for unsolicited stories, reflecting both positive and negative experiences of care that are written and directed to the organisations providing that care.

This interest in the views and experiences of patients and families, and opportunities for their involvement in their care, has also been the subject of a growing number of research studies over the last decade, with broad categories of work including shared decision making, participatory forms of design such as experience based co-design, patient reported process and outcome measures.

In a new endeavour, the NIHR Yorkshire and Humber Patient Safety Translational Research Centre is collaborating with Care Opinion to bring these two agendas together, to create new opportunities for patients and carers to be involved in research.

In 2019 we asked over 500 people who had written a story on Care Opinion whether, in principle, they would consider volunteering to be part of a “research community”.

Of the 163 people who responded to this survey, the majority were very positive about being involved in research. Nearly all respondents felt that healthcare research was important (99%). They also agreed or strongly agreed (96%) that taking part in healthcare research improves healthcare and that Care Opinion authors may have experiences that would help research (96% agree or strongly agree).

Care Opinion authors also had some opinions on how they should be involved. They expressed a wish to be able to opt in or out of being asked to help (96%) and that they should be able to see the type of organisation they are being asked to work with, before deciding (97%). Knowing about the expected time commitment (90%) and knowing how their information is safeguarded 76%) was also important to respondents.

Using this information Care Opinion, with support from Yorkshire and Humber PSTRC, has enhanced its online platform so that story authors can be invited to join the research community and state their preferences for the kinds of involvement they would want.

Our plan for the next few months is to test this out with a small number of studies within the PSTRC which are currently recruiting patients as participants. We will continue to develop the system and once we are confident that patients and researchers are happy with the way things are working, we will begin to share this opportunity with other research groups who might also find it valuable.

Of course, there will be many discussions and perhaps some glitches along the way and this approach to participating in research won’t suit everyone. There will also be questions, as yet unanswered, about the representativeness of the research community on certain characteristics such as education, socio-economic status, age, gender and ethnicity. We will need to learn and share as we go along.

We are very excited about this new and open approach to widening research participation – and learning how we can offer people who have already shared online feedback additional ways to help improve health and social care services through research.


Patient Safety and COVID-19 – the importance of NIHR PSTRCs

Since 2012, the NIHR has supported research into patient safety through funding Patient Safety Translational Research Centres (PSTRCs). There are now three centres: Greater Manchester PSTRC, Imperial PSTRC and Yorkshire and Humber PSTRC. These centres operate as partnerships between a host NHS organisation and affiliated universities.

COVID-19 has brought to the fore the significance of patient safety like never before. Behavioural science has underpinned many of the most challenging safety concerns that have emerged during this time. This includes the effort to encourage the general public to follow government guidelines on physical distancing, the importance of staff wellbeing along with infection control in hospital. Understanding why people do what they do and promoting changes in behaviour are prominent features across the PSTRCs’ work.

The PSTRCs are dedicated to improving patient safety across specific areas of the NHS and social care. The centres are designed to be agile and responsive to emerging research priorities, focusing on applying novel approaches to unsolved questions. The PSTRCs proactively involve patients, gathering their experiences before creating interventions to improve specific patient safety concerns. New safety initiatives developed by PSTRCs are then tested or piloted in the appropriate healthcare setting such as a hospital, GP practice, care home or pharmacy.

The centres’ role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic focuses on adapting existing work and building upon it to address some of the challenges facing the NHS. In addition, new research has been launched to understand and support the response to COVID-19.

An example from the Greater Manchester PSTRC is the launch of a study that looks at the mental health of survivors of COVID-19 as well as the general population within Greater Manchester including those with lived experience of homelessness. Another example is the roll out nationally of a digital triage system for use by GPs which had been previously designed by researchers within the Safety Informatics team based at the Greater Manchester centre.

Yorkshire and Humber PSTRC is exploring how healthcare organisations, such as hospitals and community pharmacies, have adapted operations to respond safely to the COVID-19 threat. It is also exploring the emotional support needs of healthcare staff and researching the impact of COVID-19 on people’s decisions to seek emergency healthcare.

Imperial PSTRC is assisting the WHO with guidance on medication safety during the pandemic and has launched a study looking at the impact of COVID-19 on digital technology in primary care. In addition, the centre is supporting the REal-time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT) study, a national, Imperial-led programme investigating Covid-19 prevalence and the use of home testing.

The centres also recognise that this is a critical time for increasing the amount of research undertaken to support the NHS. Examples of this are developing online learning opportunities for those working in healthcare, online support communities and resources, and creating virtual research communities to allow work to continue even when face to face research isn’t possible.

The centres each focus work across specific themes* which span behavioural science, mental health, patients and carers, medication safety, transitions of care between healthcare settings, and digital interventions including designing dashboards and Artificial Intelligence. These themes are well placed to address the impact of COVID-19 on the wellbeing of the workforce, the resilience of specific areas of healthcare, the role patients and carers are playing in patient safety at this time, and access to healthcare by specific groups of patients such as those with lived experience of homelessness.

 

Read more about the work of Yorkshire and Humber PSTRC in this blog from the Centre Director, Professor Rebecca Lawton and Centre Manager Dr Beth Fylan –

https://yhpstrc.org/the-role-of-translational-patient-safety-research-during-the-covid-19-crisis/

 

Find out how the Imperial PSTRC involves people in its research, and how the Centre is adapting its involvement and engagement activities during COVID-19 in this blog: https://wwwf.imperial.ac.uk/blog/ighi/2020/05/20/its-people-who-shape-our-research-heres-how/

To learn more about the work of the Greater Manchester PSTRC during the COVID-19 pandemic read Centre Director Professor Stephen Campbell’s thoughts in his latest blog:

https://gmpstrc.wordpress.com/2020/06/03/the-role-of-translational-patient-safety-research-during-and-after-the-covid-19-crisis/

 

For more information on the PSTRCs please visit:

Great Manchester PSTRC http://www.patientsafety.manchester.ac.uk/

@PSTRC_GM

Yorkshire & Humber PSTRC https://yhpstrc.org/

@YH_PSTRC

Imperial – https://www.imperial.ac.uk/patient-safety-translational-research-centre/

@Imperial_PSTRC

 

Research themes:

 

GM PSTRC – Safety Informatics, Medication Safety, Marginalised groups (including two sub themes, Mental Health and Patients and Carers), Safer Care systems and Transitions of Care (including the Behavioural Science sub theme), and Safety in Marginalised Groups.

 

Yorkshire & Humber PSTRC – Patient Involvement in Patient Safety, Workforce Engagement and Wellbeing, Safe Use of Medicines, and Digital Innovation.

 

Imperial PSTRC – Safer Systems across the Continuum of Care, Partnering with Patients for Safer Care, Avoiding Deterioration in Complex Needs Patients, Enhancing the Safety of Medication and Technology, Improving Diagnostic Accuracy and Decision Making and Improving Diagnostic Accuracy and Decision Making.

Modelling winter pressures at the NHS-R conference

A conference report by Tom Lawton

 

Simulating the processes of a hospital can help us foresee challenges to which we can proactively respond. The Digital Innovation theme is working on simulations of how patients flow through the hospital to improve foresight relating to increased patient pressures, like what might be expected from the current COVID-19 virus. Our colleague, Tom Lawton, presented his work at a conference of analysts and statisticians associated with the National Health Service (NHS).

Who are the NHS-R community?

The NHS-R community is a network of NHS staff that use the R programming language to do healthcare analysis. The second NHS-R conference was a sell-out event, twice as large as 2018’s inaugural event, and represents an excellent opportunity for the community to come together and share ideas.

 

What is the ‘Winter Pressures’ project about?

The Winter Pressures project, supported by the Health Foundation, presents a novel data-driven modelling technique to simulate a virtual hospital. As patient-safety specialists, we are using state-of-the-art simulation techniques to improve our understanding of what might contribute to winter pressures, and hopefully uncover potential mitigations. What we learn from this work has implications for how we model patient flow in general, which could help us make informed preparations for events such as the COVID-19 outbreak.

 

How can simulation contribute to patient safety?

The more we know about what might happen, the better we can plan the best care. Simulation modelling can be used to safely test out scenarios/decisions and ideas to help alleviate unwanted circumstances, like the pressures caused by spikes in admissions. Modelling allows us to test even the strangest ideas without ever putting a patient at risk by making changes in a virtual hospital rather than a real one.

You can try something similar by playing the 1997 computer game Theme Hospital (or more recently, Two Point hospital, which I beta tested!). The game simulates a hospital in which your task is to treat patients against the clock. Our Winter Pressures project created a more complicated and specific simulation to understand how patient flow is affected by a variety of interventions.

For example, what happens if we run a “hotel” to assist patients who were clinically well but had stayed for social reasons? What is the effect of expanding the use of the diagnostic virtual ward, whereby patients are able to wait at home but have their investigations prioritised as if they were in the hospital?

– Image sourced from https://i.ytimg.com/vi/KvgifLGujDU/maxresdefault.jpg

 

How is the Digital Innovation theme making use of simulation for safety?

Our hospital simulation can be scaled up from a single ward to model an entire hospital at once. We have released the computer code in the hope that we can drive further use of this powerful technique in the NHS.

As part of the NHS-R conference, I led two workshops on simulation modelling using r-simmer. These sold out quickly, demonstrating how much interest there is in doing this kind of work in the NHS. We started with a basic model of an Intensive-Care Unit using more traditional techniques and built it up until it was fully data-driven.

It was difficult for those not already versed in R programming and what is known as Discrete Event Simulation. This showed the need for further training in simulation modelling and we are already in discussions about setting up training so more people can learn how to use these powerful techniques.

 

The importance of sharing for safety

These kinds of conferences are extremely important to allow projects like this to “touch base” with others, and ensure that the outputs are useful both in terms of what is needed in the NHS, and what can drive the state-of-the-art without being too complex to use. They also serve as a great opportunity to promote the benefits of this kind of improvement work, so it can be used across the NHS for patient benefit. Safety is a property of our healthcare systems so it can only be ensured through healthy and effective connection and communication between us all.

 

How can I get involved?

We in the Digital Innovation theme would like to know what healthcare project ideas you might have that could benefit from event simulation. Let us know in the comment section below.

And don’t forget to tell us how you get on running your own Theme Hospital.

 

 

 

Acknowledgements

The Winter Pressures project is part of the Health Foundation’s Applied Analytics programme. The Health Foundation is an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and health care for people in the UK.

The role of translational patient safety research during the COVID-19 crisis

By Dr Beth Fylan and Professor Rebecca Lawton

Over the past weeks we have witnessed the raised profile of health research and the fundamental role it is has in addressing the international crisis caused by COVID-19.  Health research organisations around the world have rallied to focus on identifying treatments and vaccines to aid prevention, recovery, save lives and enable societies to return to near-normal functioning. The hugely important role of behavioural science in understanding how best to persuade and support the general population to play their part has also been evident throughout. In the UK, the Government has placed its financial clout behind vaccine development and clinical trial centres are galvanised in establishing an evidence base to help clinical decision making. The RECOVERY trial established by the University of Oxford, for example, is currently testing a range of potential treatments for COVID-19 in 170 sites, including our own Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Beyond this crucial, clinically focused work, applied research groups such as ours have been considering how their disciplinary expertise can contribute to benefit the healthcare system at this time. NIHR Patient Safety Translational Research Centres occupy a unique space in national healthcare research. Our role is to explore concepts, theories and methods that may have a role in increasing the safety of care but have not yet been developed or fully exploited. In short, we ‘aim to turn patient safety discoveries into practice’.1 We translate through developing new knowledge and understanding, or skills and tools which can be used or tested further.The commitment to funding such exploratory research is one of the reasons why the UK is at the forefront of health research internationally, recognising that innovation is key to enhancing the benefits gained from decades of work improving the safety of care.

We have come a long way in the UK since the publication of the report An Organisation with a Memory in 2000 3 in understanding the extent and nature of unintended harm to patients. Whilst the NHS has made great strides to eradicate many major of causes of harm to patients, such as wrong-site surgery and retained foreign object post-surgery (often called the ‘biggies’ of patient safety), harm is still prevalent (estimated to affect one in 20 patients).4 We have recognised the need in tandem to explore different ways of improving care.

Early translational research offers a route into these improvements and PSTRCs are a crucible for ideas yet untried and untested. Like others during this time of crisis, we find we have a role to play in the ongoing effort and the opportunity to adapt our work to address some of the challenges the NHS – and the public as a whole – faces. This means that, while some of our studies have been paused to reduce staff and patient burden, we can adapt quickly to the COVID-19 challenge by refocussing our early translational research where it can potentially bring benefits.

For example, our ongoing portfolio of work using resilient healthcare theory has given us the building blocks of a study to monitor and understand organisational response to the crisis. Similarly, our work to understand the impact of healthcare staff wellbeing and emotions in teams on care quality has enabled us to launch resources to support them given the unprecedented conditions that staff are working under. We are also adapting current studies in order to understand how patients and the public are supporting the health system by staying safe or why, in some instances, they may be staying at home, rather than seeking care if their health is deteriorating.

Having opened up new areas of enquiry based on our learning from previous work, we hope the findings from these studies will contribute to the growing knowledge of how we work together to respond to a patient safety crisis on a grand scale as well as how safety can be maintained when the norms and rules for delivering the service no longer work.

All us who have worked in health research for many years are deeply impressed, not only by the speed of the response of the academic and clinical research community to understanding this disease, but also to national bodies – such as the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and the Health Research Authority – which have swiftly adapted processes to agree funding for research studies, give due oversight to their protocols and approve them. We hope that collectively we can generate an organisational memory for working in a crisis that will help us think differently about safety in the future.

And, finally, we remain grateful for the extraordinary work of our frontline NHS, social care and key worker colleagues in tackling the COVID-19 crisis.

 

 

  1. National Institute for Health Research. £17 million invested in NIHR Patient Safety Translational Research Centres. 13 February 2017. https://www.nihr.ac.uk/news/17-million-invested-in-nihr-patient-safety-translational-research-centres/12278
  2. Aronson J. When I use a word . . . Defining translational research. BMJ Opinion 2017. https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2017/04/21/jeffrey-aronson-when-i-use-a-word-defining-translational-research/
  3. Department of Health. An organisation with a memory: report of an expert group on learning from adverse events in the NHS. London: The Stationery Office, 2000.
  4. Panagioti M, Khan K, Keers RN et al. Prevalence, severity, and nature of preventable patient harm across medical care settings: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2019; 366 :l4185

 

Testing and evaluating the Patient Wellness Questionnaire for Paediatrics

By Dr. Abigail Albutt

The current COVID-19 pandemic highlights just how important the timely recognition of, and response to, deteriorating patients in hospital is. Not only that, but patients and their families are being asked to monitor deterioration themselves at home and only use healthcare services if essential. In other words, patients and families are being asked to be involved in monitoring their condition and escalating their care in a manner never seen before.  In this blog, I describe a project our team has been working on for the past two years to support patient and family involvement in monitoring and identifying clinical deterioration.

Patients and families are likely to have unique knowledge of their norms and may intuitively sense if their or their relative’s condition is deteriorating. This has been especially well documented in paediatric deterioration where parents recognised signs that their child was deteriorating before healthcare staff. We wanted to understand how the expertise of patients and their families may be best utilised to support staff in the early detection of, and response to, clinical deterioration.

After speaking to healthcare staff about this topic, one suggested way to involve patients was to routinely ask them about how well they are feeling and if they feel their wellness has changed. Staff could then record patients’ views alongside routinely collected physiological measurements like temperature and blood pressure. To capture patient perceptions of changes in their wellness, we developed the Patient Wellness Questionnaire (PWQ; see below) in collaboration with patient representatives and healthcare assistants.

 

Initial small-scale findings were promising, and highlighted that patients were willing and able to respond to the PWQ when asked during routine observation (Click here for the full paper). Most interesting of all, the study showed that patients may be aware of changes in signs and symptoms, making them feel more unwell, before abnormalities are visible in their physiological measurements. This suggests that capturing patients’ views of their wellness using PWQ may give staff useful information to enable them to identify deteriorating patients earlier, and intervene sooner, reducing the negative impact of further deterioration (Click here for the full paper).

In 2019, I was lucky enough to receive an NIHR funded Short Placement Award for Research Collaboration (NIHR SPARC award) to spend some time in another part of the NIHR infrastructure, and conduct a research project in the area of patient deterioration. During my placement, I was hosted by Dr. Damian Roland, Consultant and Honorary Associate Professor in Paediatric Emergency Medicine at Leicester Royal Infirmary (LRI) Children’s Emergency Department. Dr. Roland has a wealth of experience and expertise in the identification of sick children in acute care settings and use of scoring systems. This was an ideal pairing to expand the research conducted within my PhD and explore using routinely recording patient-reported wellness in other populations and settings.

Parents and carers know their child best and may be well placed to recognise changes in their signs and symptoms that may need fast medical intervention. The PWQ for paediatrics aimed to capture parents (or children where appropriate) perceptions of their child’s wellness and was asked by nurses during initial assessment when parents and children first presented to the Emergency Department. Over 500 parent/child responses were captured and analysis is underway to explore how their views on their child’s wellness relate to physiological measures and outcomes for the child. This will help us to understand whether parent’s perceptions can support early recognition and response to deterioration in the Emergency Department.

The placement allowed me to gain experience working with doctors and nurses in a paediatric emergency department, an applied health setting that I have never had the chance to conduct research in before. Being in the department over a number of weeks allowed me to truly immerse myself in the setting and I was able to observe the data collection process during assessments with parents and children to have contextual knowledge of the data, gaining an in depth understanding of whether the PWQP could be embedded, and if it could enhance current practice.

Thank you to the NIHR Academy for funding my placement, and to Dr. Roland and the staff at LRI Children’s Emergency Department for making this research possible.

 

 

 

Stopping medicines: Re-designing the process using Experience-based Co-design

By Dr Janice Olaniyan, Dr Iuri Marques, Dr Daisy Payne, Mr George Peat

In a previous blog entry, we shared our experience of conducting user (patient and supporting peers, who may support patients’ medicines use) and practitioner interviews, to understand the process of stopping medicines in primary care. After these interviews, we used Experience-based Co-design to determine how we can improve this service.

What is Experience-based Co-design?

Experience-based Co-design(EBCD)1 is a process in which patients and staff come together in different sessions to identify priorities to improve services. It is a unique Quality Improvement (QI) approach, which enables staff, patients and carers (or other service users) to jointly reflect on their experiences of a service and work together to identify and implement priorities for improvement.2 Before we began organising our EBCD sessions, we conducted qualitative interviews with patients, supporting peers and healthcare professionals to understand their views and experiences of having medicines stopped (for more information about this part of our research, please see our previous blog here).

Why did we use Experience-base Co-design?

We feel that involving those who have experienced stopping medicines that may no longer be appropriate for them is the best way to ensure we succeed in improving the process of stopping medicines. We can only fully understand and redesign services through real-life experiences of what works and what doesn’t work, and only service users and service providers can provide this insight. The EBCD approach differs from other service improvement techniques in that it is a partnership, with shared leadership between patients and professionals1, which focuses on patient and staff experiences and emotions through storytelling, to identify key opportunities for improvement.2

What exactly did we do?

Patients and their supporting peers were interviewed about their experiences of reducing or stopping their medicines. These interviews were video recorded, and the footage was captured and edited into a short film that summarised their experiences. We then held a number of workshops, which brought patients, their supporting peers, and clinicians (General Practitioners, Nurses, and Pharmacists) together in a neutral space that allowed for an open discussion about the process of reducing or stopping medicines. The short film, capturing patients’ and supporting peers’ views, was shown to the people that attended the workshops to help generate further discussions about experiences of reducing or stopping medication. After the workshops, an event was held to celebrate the contribution of everyone who was involved in the workshops.

What value did EBCD add to our research?

Conducting our EBCD sessions gave us the opportunity to take patients’, supporting peers’ and clinicians’ views into consideration to develop the ideal consultation process for stopping medicines in primary care. Participants came together to reflect on the real-life stories recorded during interviews, building on these to identify patient-centred priorities for improving the consultation and process of stopping medicines in primary care. Patients, their supporting peers and healthcare professionals told us that they enjoyed taking part and valued the opportunity to take an active role in improving the process of stopping medicines.

Where will we go from here?

We have heard what patients, supporting peers and healthcare professionals had to say and will use the information they gave us to redesign the process of stopping medicines in primary care before testing it.

More information

For more information about EBCD and our top five tips for involving Patients and members of the public in developing these sessions, please have a look at our newsletter article here.

References

 

  1. Donetto S, Tsianakas V, Robert G. Using Experience-based Co-design (EBCD) to improve the quality of healthcare: mapping where we are now and establishing future directions. London: King’s College; 2014.
  2. The Point of Care Foundation. EBCD: Experience-based co-design toolkit. Accessed from https://www.pointofcarefoundation.org.uk/resource/experience-based-co-design-ebcd-toolkit/step-by-step-guide/1-experience-based-co-design/. Date accessed 04/02/2020 at 17:00 pm

 

 

Digital Innovation for Patient Safety, on the international stage

The International Society for Digital health was launched this year and the Digital Innovation theme are intricately involved to contribute the patient-safety perspective.

On the 25th September 2019 at the University of Leeds, the International Society for Digital Health had its official UK launch. The launch was attended by over 70 international delegates from as far as Indonesia, China, India, the Gulf and neighbouring EU countries. Members of the Digital Innovation theme were not only in attendance but our theme Lead, Owen Johnson, hosted the event; Moreover, Owen is a founding member and part of the society’s Executive Committee.

 

Leading the way on the international stage

In June 2019, Owen Johnson was invited to speak at the International Society for Digital Health 2019 conference, with a talk entitled “Patient safety: the opportunities and risks of using AI in medical diagnosis and care”. At the event, he spoke about the motivation for a patient-safety agenda in healthcare information technology. In part, the motivation arises from the consequences of a mixture of over-reliance and under-utilisation of automation. It is concerns like these that the Digital Innovation theme are addressing in our Micronarratives project, wherein we are asking how real-time intelligence is created via human sensor networks.

The difficulty in finding the balanced path of appropriate use of IT and artificial intelligence is somewhat explained by the V, and T challenges that Owen spoke about during his invited talk, at the June conference. The V challenge refers to the five Vs of big data:

  • Volume – How do we safely handle the very large amount of healthcare data being produced?;
  • Velocity – How do we safely handle the frequency with which healthcare data is updated and made obsolete?;
  • Variety – How do we safely handle the diversity of data types, formats, and delivery?;
  • Variability – How do we safely handle the differences in the way healthcare care is generated and used?; and
  • Value – How do we safely filter and prioritise the best healthcare data?.

The T challenge refers to safely handling the temporal effects of intervening with healthcare information technologies. Work by McLintcok et al. in 2014 showed how rates of coding and prescribing for incentivised conditions suggest anomalous prevalence and incidence during incentivised periods, but tend to reset to baseline values. It can be inferred that the timing of digital healthcare interventions can have anomalous effects with varying transience. These factors are front-and-centre for us in the Digital Innovation theme as we study the design and implementation of clinical decision-support tools (see Very Smart Cancer RATs).

 

What next for digital innovation of patient safety?

With these challenges in mind, the Digital Innovation theme continue to work in the overlap of digital technology, healthcare service, and safety science. Our member’s involvement in discussions at the international level facilitates collaboration and innovation for the promotion of patient safety in healthcare. The increasing digitisation and automation of society requires us to actively engage with the leading edge of our progress, and to take pre-emptive action to ensure our collective safety and effectiveness.

 

How can I get involved?

If you would like to keep up to speed or get involved with the International Society for Digital Health, join the LinkedIn open forum at https://www.linkedin.com/groups/10490340/.

You can also apply for membership by checking out http://www.theisdh.org/membership.php.

Beyond the outcomes: The benefits of the ‘process’ of doing applied health research

By Rebecca Lawton, Luke Budworth, Beth Fylan and Laura Sheard

Like other research endeavours, applied health research rewards us with new and effective interventions and technologies, a better understanding of phenomena, and evidence-based recommendations for how best to deliver a service. Uniquely, however, applied health research also helps to understand how best to translate interventions, knowledge and recommendations into everyday practice. For anyone who is interested in making a difference to patients, staff, healthcare systems and society, this is an exciting field to work in.

Nevertheless, as researchers, we often fail to consider or evaluate the impact that the process of conducting research has on these same patients, staff and healthcare systems. In this piece we focus on the huge potential that applied health research has to deliver benefits in the process of creating new knowledge. We want to open this debate up and would encourage other applied health researchers to contribute their own experiences of conducting research that made a difference ‘in the doing’.

To tell us about your views on this topic, as a researcher or NHS staff member, please follow link below.

https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/SNW2WMW

Applied health research per se is undoubtedly beneficial for patients, healthcare staff and organisations. Within institutions with higher versus lower research participation, previous studies have identified improved patient health outcomes (including cancer mortality rates), reduced staff turnover, improved organisational efficiency and increased patient and staff satisfaction (e.g. Harding et al., 2017; Downing et al., 2015; Hanney et al., 2013). There are many potential explanations for these positive effects. For patients, this is often explained by the direct health benefits of exposure to novel interventions or procedures, and for staff, being able to develop their skills and experience. There may, however, be other, more indirect, reasons for these positive outcomes. In this blog, we are interested in those largely unrecognised benefits that funders may never find out about and that rarely, if ever, make their way into the published literature.

The benefits of research interviews

During her PhD, one of our research students reflected on how several of her participants emphasized how significant the interview process was for them, how rarely they had the opportunity to talk about their feelings with a non-judgmental listener and how they appreciated the opportunity to do this while potentially benefitting others. Many people who interview patients will be familiar with this apparent parallel between therapy and research interviews. Indeed, this benefit of the research process has received considerable attention. In 1994, Hutchinson’s review of the literature in this field concluded that catharsis, self-acknowledgement, a sense of purpose and self-awareness were all outcomes for patients associated with involvement in qualitative research.

In our own research on the experiences of staff who have been involved in patient safety events, the benefits for staff of being interviewees has revealed findings consistent with the above literature. Staff have reported that they felt a weight had been lifted, and that being given time to just talk to non-judging individuals who understood patient safety issues was highly cathartic. Indeed, for many, although it was painful, they felt they could now ‘move on’ from the event.

In the above cases, skilled interviewers have, during their work, developed much more than a better understanding of a phenomenon; they have developed a relationship of trust and mutual respect. For us, this is a mark of high quality research that we pay little attention to; often being the subject of a sentence or two in the reflective section of a thesis or manuscript.

And what about the broader benefits for staff of participating in applied health research?

For patients, this question has been investigated and there is now evidence from many studies that patients perceive a multitude of benefits to be associated with research participation, including greater knowledge and awareness of their health/condition, access to treatments or services, pride in taking part, a desire to help others, and the opportunity to talk to someone (c.f. Castillo et al., 2012; Gysels et al., 2008; Tolmie et al., 2004).

The benefits associated with the process of conducting an interview study represent only the tip of the iceberg, however. We recently asked for feedback from our team of 25 staff and PhD students, all engaged in applied health research. Below is a flavour of what they told us about the ways that the research process had benefitted staff and/or the health service involved in their work. Some of these were ideas were based on opinion, others were articulated by healthcare staff during the research process. Let’s be clear: we are absolutely not talking about the outcomes of research here, but what happened while they were collecting data, running co-design workshops, working with staff to consider how they might be involved in evaluating a new intervention, or understanding how teams work together (or don’t).

These are some of the benefits the research group identified:

  • Increased knowledge of a topic;
  • A safe space to talk about feelings, grievances, and frustrations;
  • The time to think about things differently, perhaps from a different perspective;
  • An opportunity to be more engaged at work, to do something different, to make a change;
  • An opportunity to contribute, to feel valued;
  • An opportunity to think critically/identify problems with current practice;
  • A chance to try something new, to be creative, to demonstrate expertise, to be valued and listened to;
  • A space to stop and think (particularly for staff);
  • A boost to morale through positive feedback.

Despite this list, a brief review of the literature reveals very little about the benefits of the process or activity of being involved in applied health research for staff. In 1996, Buxton and Hanney published an article examining the ‘payback’ for applied research. In this article they hint at the benefits of the process of research, referring in their model to the fact that ‘some outputs/paybacks may flow directly from the processes and the fact that the research is being carried out’ (Buxton and Hanney, 1996, p.39). However, in later frameworks of Research Impact (e.g., Kurivilla, Mays, Pleasant and Walt, 2006) the impacts of the research activity itself are not acknowledged and, given the challenges of measuring the impact of research, even when focus is on outputs alone, this is perhaps unsurprising.

As applied health researchers we often engage in participatory forms of research and work closely with those at the sharp end as well as those in managerial positions in healthcare organisations. It is this direct contact with people in the service that means the potential to do good (and bad, but this is not the focus here) is huge. Our aim in writing this piece is to start a dialogue with other researchers about the benefits of the activity or the ‘doing of’ research in health and social care settings. If we can better understand and capture these benefits then we might be in a stronger position to demonstrate the value or ‘cost-effectiveness’ of our research to funders, stakeholders and participants alike.

We are seeking feedback on:

1   Your own experiences of the benefits for healthcare staff (managers, clinicians or any other staff group) of being involved in doing research via a short survey:

https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/SNW2WMW

2   Research papers that address this topic directly

3   There is one tool, Visible Impact of Research (VICTOR), developed by Jo Cooke and team within the Yorkshire and Humber CLAHRC, that has acknowledged, at least some of the benefits of the research process. Primarily, this tool aims to identify the health and economic impact of the research, the reputational benefits, the generation of knowledge and building of capacity for research. However, the VICTOR tool also includes an assessment of workforce impacts. Two of these questions ask specifically about benefits for workforce skills and practice of their involvement in the research process and another item asks about whether taking part in the research has influenced teams to do something different together. There may be other tools like this out there, that we are yet to come across – if so, please do let us know.

Improving wellbeing and safety at work using collective wisdom: what more can we learn from other sectors?

In collaboration with Veterinary Surgeons Sarah Hunt and Caroline Dennis

Our aim as a Patient Safety Translational Research Centre (PSTRC) is to learn from and draw on ideas from other sectors. Healthcare has done this successfully in the past. For example, procedures used in aviation inspired the use of the surgical safety checklist and the racing car industry has provided insight into safer handovers during complex care. However, other topics that are relevant to many safety-critical organisations, including healthcare, are how staff make difficult decisions in uncertain and difficult situations and how we enable staff to do their job safely.

Safety-critical industries: what are the links?

Sectors such as healthcare, veterinary medicine, maritime, police and fire services share important aspects in their day to day work. They are high risk, complex environments. But links run deeper than this. Workforces in these sectors are increasingly under pressure to perform well despite limited resources. Staff are working in time-critical situations where high stakes decisions have to be made, often in the context of limited or incomplete information. In addition, they are also under constant scrutiny with the threat of litigation if something goes wrong. These disciplines are therefore all facing similar issues in terms of the impact on the staff delivering the service. Staff sickness, burnout, and turnover are all consequences and the evidence of the link between wellbeing and the effectiveness and safety of the service being delivered is growing. Our own work has shown links between staff wellbeing and patient safety in a healthcare setting (e.g. Hall et al, Johnson et al, Louch et al) and conversations with colleagues working in other safety-critical sectors have indicated that they too are facing similar work-related issues that affect safety and wellbeing.

What has already been done to address this?

Colleagues in other sectors such as veterinary medicine – the VetLed HALT Campaign and Vets Now, police and the fire service now recognise the important link between staff wellbeing and safety and are beginning to develop solutions. In 2005, the BMJ and Veterinary Record issued a joint special issue which sought to stimulate debate about possible links between approaches in human and veterinary medicine to improve practice. More recently, interest in attempting to improve healthcare safety by bringing together perspectives from human and animal healthcare has emerged. However, while such initiatives demonstrate potential value, they remain sparse.

How can we move forward?

We think there is now a need to foster synergy and promote learning from each other by sharing perspectives and insights. This will allow us to develop a collective wisdom and move beyond our own professional communities; forming a collaborative approach to the shared challenges posed by the link between wellbeing and safety. Through doing this, we hope sectors will be encouraged to consider strategies that are being implemented in each other’s industries, increase knowledge about how these strategies shape the work environment and impact wellbeing and safety, and whether they are transferable to other settings. This will enable us all to develop alternative and novel strategies which are of value to others as well as within the context from which they originate.

What next: a shared interactive workshop

We are bringing together individuals interested in enhancing staff wellbeing through learning from and sharing with colleagues in other sectors for an innovative interactive workshop at our national patient safety conference on 15th October 2019.

The workshop will include colleagues from veterinary medicine, fire, police, maritime and healthcare services who will:

  • explore the concept of well-being and its impact on aspects of safe practice from each of their service sector perspectives
  • share experiences and insight across different service sectors
  • explore common factors affecting well-being at work and identify current strategies to address these
  • explore how to take forward shared learning and insight

How can I get involved?

You can follow our workshop on Twitter #wellbeing4safety

For more information about this work please contact: Jane Heyhoe or Gillian Janes

 

Supporting the ‘second victims’ of patient safety incidents

Researchers at our PSTRC have developed a unique range of online support to help the ‘second victims’ of patient safety incidents: clinicians and healthcare workers.

Patient safety incidents are any unintended or unexpected incident, such as a medical error or system failure, which could have, or did, lead to harm for a patient receiving healthcare. When things go wrong in the NHS the first priority is always to support the patient affected and their family. But this sometimes means that the needs of healthcare workers at the centre of patient safety incident investigations are almost forgotten, even when the impact can have far-reaching consequences for the person and their organisation.

Now health researchers from the PSTRC, the Yorkshire Quality and Safety Research Group and the Improvement Academy, based at the Bradford Institute for Health Research, have launched a website www.secondvictim.co.uk with a wealth of resources to support clinicians and organisations.

The project is focused on how clinicians are supported through these events; not because their needs are greater than the patient or their family’s – far from it, but because the impact of the event on the clinician has a knock-on effect on the care they are able to give their next patient. One clinician described it in this way:

It hit me for the first time that I’ve had something actually go wrong, then that opened a door to me imagining, second guessing everything all the time, imagining things going wrong. And how you can have an effect on a person’s life if something does go wrong. I think that’s what really hit me, and knocked my confidence for that time.

This clinician, with others, has told their story by film on the website. Users of the website have found these films helpful, and several have offered to share their own experiences. It’s been so useful for the project team to hear the real experiences of people who will be able to benefit from using the website, and to recognise the impact that making a mistake has on the clinician and their colleagues. In particular this story stands out because when the incident was investigated the clinician was found to be not at fault, due to a communication error about what needed to be done.

These stories clearly resonate with other clinicians, but importantly when clinicians talk about mistakes it enables learning; in this instance the way that treatment plans are communicated around the hospital could be improved, reducing the risk of a recurrence for another patient.

To hear these stories go to www.secondvictim.co.uk