As a graduate in Psychology, I was awarded a year’s membership to the British Psychological Society (BPS). Last month, they hosted a webinar conference: ‘An Introduction to Involving Patients and Public in Health Psychology Research’. This particularly caught my interest, as here at HRW, we recognise that people are at the core of our research, especially patients. Now more than ever, we appreciate the importance of never losing sight of those who will be impacted by what we may uncover in our findings.

The conference included speakers from those with various different roles in health psychology research; Lynn, a public contributor/patient involved in health research, Amanda Bates, a patient experience and public involvement lead, service user researcher and BPS chartered psychologist, as well as Dr Sarah Hotham, a senior research fellow, BPS chartered psychologist and National Institute for Health Research Design Services adviser. Having the varying perspectives of each of these individuals provided a well-rounded insight into all those involved in the public health research process. Including academic and psychologically informed perspectives that we, as commercial researchers, may not always have the opportunity to encounter in our day to day work.

These perspectives offered valuable learnings and implications we at HRW can take away and apply to our work, I have included just a few…

Firstly, who are we conducting the research for?

Ask yourself – when did I personally access a health service? How was my experience? What did I think was good? What did I find challenging? How could research improve this for me?

Sometimes, it can be easy to get bogged down in the commercial objectives of a research project, that you lose sight of the experience ‘on the ground’. In many instances, this end goal is to improve a service or product for those who are using it. Considering these users (be they healthcare professionals, patients, or members of the public) at every stage of the research cycle is crucial to ensuring the findings benefit those that will be influenced by them! As Dr Amanda Bates nicely summed up: ‘don’t research into services without involving the people who use it!’

Here at HRW, this is something we recognise, and often call on the advice of a relevant healthcare professional or patient to guide us on how best to approach a research project. Usually, we place focus on determining who we should be talking to, but as Dr Sarah Hotham emphasised, the benefit of calling on advisors such as this can be felt at every stage of the research cycle. For instance, when generating research questions. These advisors will have the first-hand experience and knowledge to ensure the appropriate questions, that will provide actionable insights that benefit the users at the end of the research process, are asked. Moreover, as emphasised by Lynn, tailoring a research process to ensure it is suitable for those involved is vital in ensuring the research participants’ engagement with the project, as well as their ‘faith’ in the research process and its ability to deliver beneficial findings.

Indeed, considering those the research is for at every stage of the research cycle is crucial, here’s just a few ideas for questions every team should ask when designing a project to ensure we do so…

  • Am I using the right jargon?
  • How am I referring to them…. Patient? Service user? – check what they’re comfortable with.
  • Is the research location inclusive and accessible?
    • At present, is the online platform easy to use? Do they have access?
  • What timings work best for them – i.e. are evenings most suitable?

More broadly, it is important for us as researchers, particularly when working with patient cohorts, to ensure it is communicated to participants exactly what the research is for and what their involvement is. This point is often perceived from a legal perspective, but as Lynn emphasised, perhaps we should also be considering this more so from an ethical perspective; after all, the subject of research is likely to be very important and emotive for them, and the findings will likely impact products and services they regularly rely on.

To summarise the insights from this conference, it is crucial to embed those who will be impacted by the research at the heart of it; considering them at every stage of the research cycle. In the online world we find ourselves in, it can be easy to forget who it is that will be impacted by the end results of the study we are conducting. By calling on those it will impact, engaging in honest conversations and listening to their perspectives we can, as healthcare researchers, ensure we are designing and implementing research that will benefit those who will be impacted by it.

To find out more about our approaches to patient research or our behavioural science unit, HRW shift, get in touch.


By Iona Gillies

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