Summer conference round-up

By Stephen Hibbs, Rachel Barnard, Deborah Swinglehurst, Sophie Spitters, Duncan Reynolds, and Rebecca Muir

Summer is a great time to take a break from business as usual – to reflect, travel, connect with others, explore new ideas and find inspiration. So, it’s no surprise that several researchers from the APOLLO team have gone to a conference this summer to present and discuss their work with colleagues from across the UK and beyond. 

The hidden work of GPs and storytelling for polypharmacy

 Two research projects from the APOLLO team were presented at this year’s Society for Academic Primary Care (SAPC) Annual Scientific Meeting in Brighton.

Rachel Barnard presented findings from the GP Hidden Work project, a collaboration with University of Manchester and University of Exeter. The presentation generated animated discussion about the concept of efficiency. GPs need thinking time for non-patient facing work. For example, test results need to be interpreted. Because GPs are so busy with direct patient care, they often defer this supporting work to their own time. Uncertainty is intrinsic to non-patient-facing work, but it can make GPs question whether they are efficient enough and it plays a big part in workload pressures. The educators in attendance were eager to take these ideas to trainees to invite them to deliberate on how this work is as integral as their direct care work with patients to their role as caring GPs. 

Design researcher Alison Thomson presented work she has been collaborating on with Deborah Swinglehurst and Nina Fudge within the APOLLO-MM project. Entitled Exploring Polypharmacy: a storytelling-based co-design approach to creating patient-centred solutions she shared findings from a series of workshops we facilitated using the Storytelling Group technique. This is an approach developed within the field of design which we adapted for the online environment during the Covid19 pandemic. We invited patients to re-imagine the process of medication review and engaged them in collaborative fictional scenario-building, aiding story development through the introduction of provocative prompts based on insights from our wider ethnographic research. Alison presented some of our key findings and explained how they informed the development of a new resource we have recently developed for patients and public. More to follow about these resources in the next APOLLO blog…

Blood stories

In April of this year, Stephen Hibbs attended the British Society of Haematology (BSH) Annual Scientific meeting in Birmingham. 

Stephen organised the “Blood Stories” session, focusing on the lives of individuals who become entangled with haematological diagnoses and treatments. It began with a talk from Professor Graham Easton (Professor of Clinical Communication Skills at QMUL and BBC Broadcaster) on how to use a “story-based approach” in clinical encounters and the benefits that it can bring. Mariama spoke about living with a severe bleeding disorder and how it affected the lives of her and her siblings – she had become an advocate for them as well as for her own health, and she had studied her own condition at university level to understand it better (including an unexpected benefit of reducing cardiovascular risk). KC spoke about his experience of having sickle cell disease, a stroke in his mid-thirties and then a bone marrow transplant. After the transplant, he no longer has sickle-cells in his blood, but his biography and body have been markedly shaped by the disease. Finally, Ruth spoke about her decision not to undertake chemotherapy for a particular type of blood cancer – and how she navigates both the disease and healthcare systems from a different paradigm.

Despite extensive conversations with the speakers in preparation, the session felt new, fresh, Stephen says. “This was my final BSH conference as a member of the programme committee, during which time I have invited ten different individuals to speak and share about their haematological conditions. Reflecting on this now, I want to find other ways to open doors to healthcare discussions for those who have actually experienced these conditions in their bodies. This is a fundamental part of how I’m approaching my current work in sickle cell disease – even before I’ve started data collection, my patient advisory group have changed the way I’ve understood hospital care of sickle cell crises and how my research can improve understanding”.

How technology transforms access to care 

In June, Sophie Spitters attended the Nordic Science and Technology Studies (STS) conference in Oslo. The conference brought together people from diverse disciplines, like health, data science, design, social science, law and arts to discuss the role of science and technology in society. It was the first in-person gathering since the COVID-19 pandemic with a fitting theme, disruption and repair.

 Sophie discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the way healthcare is delivered in GP surgeries. Staff had to innovate rapidly to ensure care could be delivered safely at a distance. They implemented digital technologies, so that people could access care from home. These technologies can now be used flexibly to meet differential patient needs and an overwhelming practice demand.
 The ModCons team, that Sophie represented, explores how technology has transformed access to GP appointments. In many GP surgeries, appointments are no longer booked by walking or phoning into the surgery and negotiating an appointment with the receptionist. Instead, technology is used to send appointment requests to a doctor first, who decides what appointment is most appropriate, before the patient is contacted by the receptionist or the doctor to organise their appointment/care. In Oslo, Sophie discussed how this new digital process changes care negotiations – enabling direct online communication between doctor and patient on the one hand, while also keeping patients at a distance away from the practice unable to initiate dialogue.

Sharing learning about weight stigma and other social issues

In June 2023, Rebecca Muir attended two back-to-back conferences in Denver, Colorado, USA. The first conference, held by the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI), was on theme of ‘Transforming Our World:  Using Research and Action to Address (In)Visible Wounds’. The conference showcased transformative research and social action on pressing social issues. Rebecca also attended a graduate networking workshop and met interesting grad students from Australia, the US and Canada.

The second conference, themed around weight stigma, was organised by Angela Meadows at the University of Essex. The conference focussed on the harms of weight stigma in society and healthcare. “The keynote speakers gave fascinating talks on their activism efforts, and I learnt a lot about how anti-fat bias operates in society and the impact weight bias has on people in larger bodies. On the final day, I presented my Master’s dissertation on the unintended impact of BMI-restrictive criteria. This was an amazing opportunity to discuss my work and receive useful feedback on my PhD plans.”

The practices that establish trust in medical practice

Duncan Reynolds attended the European Group on Organization Studies conference in Cagliari, Italy. He presented in the sub theme “Implementing Innovation in Public Health: Organizational Challenges and Implications on Work”. In this stream there were a wide range of papers presented over the course of 3 days, from implementation of AI and ICT in care homes, to dealing with complexity during the creation of healthcare policy. 

Duncan presented his paper “Treating guinea pigs as people to aid medical innovation: An ethnographic study of trusting in medical practice”. Duncan showed that trusting can emerge from an entwinement of practices associated with the creation of a friendly atmosphere, the building and maintaining of positive relationships, and the management of uncertainty. All of these practices had in common that participants on the trials were treated as individuals, rather than “guinea pigs” or “test tubes”, only there to be researched on, as has been recorded to be the case in some literature. The importance of the physical layout of the space where trials took place emerged as a key discussion point from this presentation, with how trials which take place in hospitals as compared to dedicated research facilities can mean different things for the creation of relaxed and friendly atmospheres.  

Let’s see how these projects will develop next!

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