Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Patient Advisory Groups (Part 4) DEVELOPING PEOPLE

Developing People (Patient/Public Involvement Standard: Support and Learning)

- Being a member of a Patient Advisory Group may help research yet it is also an opportunity for learning and developing as a person - patients and researchers.

This is Part 4 in a series of articles about Patient Advisory Groups. You can read the other posts in the series by clicking on these links: Patient Advisory Groups (PAG) Part 1; From Story to Reflection - Part 2 ; Purpose and Plans - Part 3. The final article will look at how we record and report on the activity of a Patient Advisory Group: A Tale to Tell.

Introduction

I have been a member of many Patient Advisory Groups. I am always amazed by people's willingness to give of their time to help improve research. I learn so much from listening to other's experiences, knowledge and skills whether as patients or researchers. I am even more pleased to see people grow and develop as individuals. This article, Empowered Patients, by Marie Ennis-O'Connor may be particularly helpful.

So far, in this series, I have spoken about making a difference to the research yet through our involvement experiences we invariably develop as people.  We obtain new knowledge, gain different understanding and even develop new skills.

We have the opportunity to obtain information relating to our own health, the current thinking about treatments, the latest research. For starters, we discover more about the way researchers work, the methods they use and the challenges they face. We find out more about science, medicines and the human body. We discover more about health reasons that brought us to the table.

Making Sense 

Members of Patient Advisory Groups might like to think about how we make sense of all the information we are being asked to consider. I have found it helpful to reflect by grouping the issues into different categories: 

  1. Our Condition or illness  - e.g. the causes, diagnosis, treatments, etc. 
  2. Current Research - e.g. the type, methods, approach, regulation, etc.
  3. The Science - e.g. the pathology, laboratory, genetics, medicines, etc.

This makes me think about the question or observation I might like to make in the meeting. You can choose your own categories to meet your needs.

There is NO necessity to formally learn these subjects. We pick up what we need in the same way we learn a few phrases on a visit to another country. Our presence in research land is to bring the patient voice to the table whilst reflecting on our experiences. It is, however, good a have a grasp about some of the issues, to raise our awareness and to gain knowledge. These help make our contributions more appropriate.

I have a much better understanding now of the complexity of getting research done and the complications around applying the findings in practice. I know of the developments of more targeted treatments and the greater precision these are intending to provide.

Personal Development

There is a further area that is about how all of this affects us on a personal level:

     4. Our Self - e.g. wellbeing, developing and coping 

I understand much more about my own wellbeing. I take much greater care about what I eat and keeping myself healthy. A health tracker has become a useful wearable addition to my life. As a consequence I have made fewer visits to my GP and take little or no medicine. 

All of this learning does not take place in the normal places of education. It takes place in the classroom of our experience and affects our feelings and emotions. I never imagined that I would become actively involved with clinicians and researchers - science was one of my weakest subjects at school. I therefore surprise myself at being so interested.

Just as we have the emotional ups and downs in reaction to our illness, so these responses are revisited when we attend meetings. These are elements of ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ where we want to take on the world or run screaming from the area.

It is worth thinking about how you might cope when something is said or done that might upset you. Members of a Nottingham Breast Cancer Research Patient Advisory Group suggested:
  • Distraction activity - thinking of something else, doodling on the papers
  • Counting to 10 and/or breathing slowly and deeply
  • Thinking of worse/ best scenarios and usually finding yourself in middle
  • Think through possible scenarios beforehand - what happens if and thinking of decision
  • Getting up and leaving the room for a few minutes
In reality, these moments are extremely rare in Advisory Group setting but they do occur. They are perfectly normal

The important fact is these moments reconnect us to our patient experience and remind us to think of those who might be asked to take part in a research study in question.

Learning by Experience

The learning itself takes place in a haphazard fashion depending on the people we meet.  It is not a linear course of instruction. It is referred to as experiential learning and David Kolb, the educationalist describes this as the difference between visiting a place rather than merely reading about it.

As an example, having attended a meeting of the Nottingham group yesterday, I realised that some of the activity involves basic science and pre-clinical work including animal testing. Some of the examples from last week's blog might be of interest and use.

I learned more about breast cancer and the treatments (condition), about the planned diagnostic tests (research) as well as how this is being targeted at specific cells (science). I found out about health economics (research). I also felt supported by hearing from the members about their experiences (self).

These, in turn, invite us to consider the purpose of our involvement with research and how we record and report this activity. It is the subject of the next blog post - A Tale to Tell (PPI Standard: (Communication)


Note: If you are new to Patient/Public Involvement in Research then this post provides a lot of background sources of information


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