Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Let’s get out of the office and see what’s really happening

Posted by Dorothy Newbury-Birch

When putting bids together for research we have to think carefully about how a project can happen ‘in the field’. We look at the evidence to date and often ask people who are working in said 'field' for advice on how things can work. But is this enough?

I would argue not always – for us to really understand what we are asking people who take part in research to do, we need to get out there and look for ourselves how things could work in practice. For example if I am working on a project where I would like ambulance staff to screen patients for alcohol use disorders how can I really know what normal practice is like without observing it for myself?

Hanging out with an ambulance crew - good fun, good research
I have, to date, carried out observational work for these very reasons, in an Accident and Emergency Department (AED) on black Friday - the Friday before Christmas. I quickly realised that asking AED staff to ask lots of questions about alcohol wasn’t really a good idea. In fact, just getting a cup of coffee that night was barely feasible. However, using a shorter questionnaire, perhaps at the triage stage, might be.

I also spent two weekends with an ambulance crew and learned that paramedics make small talk in the back of the ambulance with a lot of patients whilst they are being transferred to the AED. This makes it an ideal opportunity for research to take place. I also realised that quite a few people who paramedics are called to see, are not transferred to hospital. The paramedics were frustrated about not being able to do anything with these people (another opportunity for research).

I spent a night with the maxillofacial team in AED where I learned that they are slightly separate to the core AED staff and in the main do have more time (yet another opportunity for research). Finally I spent a couple of nights on a project with police and paramedics where I’m not sure what I learned, but it was fun.

Of course, there are loopholes to get through in order to do observational work like this, forms to be filled in (including risk assessments). I am always honest about my reasons for doing the work with the people I’m working with and this is important for good relationships. I always, always take goodies for the team (blueberry muffins, cherry bakewells).

Ultimately I think this observational work means we end up with better research. And it's really, really, really good fun. So give it a try.

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