Understanding chronic pain
13 August 2012
Dr Fiona MacKichan, from the School of Social and Community Medicine
How do you engage people with medical conditions if they are not necessarily seeking treatment?
This was the challenge faced by Dr Fiona MacKichan, whose research focuses on managing chronic pain.
Many older people suffer from chronic pain, often associated with conditions such as arthritis, but some do not seek help from medical services such as their GP.
As such, Fiona had to consider alternative routes to reaching her target audience.
By advertising through the Bristol Older People’s Forum, getting re-tweeted by Age UK and being interviewed on BBC Radio Bristol, she found volunteers willing to take part in workshops to discuss the issues around chronic pain.
These workshops were about generating questions. We wanted to find out the needs and priorities of those who might benefit from our research
The aim of the workshops was to create a dialogue with older people experiencing long term pain and find out what areas of research they would like to see a focus on.
As Fiona says “These workshops were about generating questions.
We wanted to find out the needs and priorities of those who might benefit from our research”.
The workshops took place over two days and were attended by 16 people aged between 68 and 89.
In the first workshop a lot of time was devoted to introductions and chatting so that everyone felt at ease.
The participants then took part in a session on evaluating evidence – comparing news headlines with the NHS website Behind the headlines
which provides accurate responses to sensationalist health reporting.
This was designed to develop questioning skills and experience of evaluating evidence, and the participants enjoyed working in groups to analyse health claims.
Surprisingly, a subsequent session on accessing health information online was less successful, with many participants suggesting that they do not use the internet.
This raised the interesting question of how health information is given to patients.
It’s good to think that research can come from ‘the source’
The second workshop, held one week later, was led by the participants.
They brainstormed the issues that mattered to them, and looked at vignettes based on research to help prompt discussions about what research they would like to see.
At the end of the day, the participants were asked about what they got from the workshops.
Several suggested that they had learnt from one another and that sharing experiences made them feel less isolated – “the best thing is knowing you are not on your own”.
Some also felt there was value in contributing to research: “it’s good to think that research can come from ‘the source’”.
The workshops have also been beneficial to Fiona, who says “It’s reaffirmed in my mind some of the questions I was thinking about. It’s also given me new areas to follow up – such as the problem of mental health issues for older people with chronic pain, and how older carers manage their own health needs”. But there is also a long term impact as 12 of the participants have agreed to become an engagement group. By meeting with Fiona three times a year to discuss and give advice on current issues, they can continue to help shape and develop the direction of research for years to come.
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