Engaging a practice audience in your findings


Why communicate with health care practitioners?

If your research has implications for health care practice, engaging with practitioners is an important way to increase its impact. This is particularly the case where you can isolate specific insights that might influence their work.

Who to engage?

With more than 1 million people working in the NHS, the simple term ‘health care practitioner’ belies immense diversity in professions, career paths, attitudes, interests and outlooks. If any generalisation can be made about this audience, it is that they are busy people.

A crucial first step is to identify the practitioners for whom your research is most relevant. This means segmenting them potentially by professional group, career grade, health care setting, role, region and specialty. The more precisely you can identify the specific groups you might engage, the easier it will be to frame your research in ways that will speak to their particular contexts and interests.

It is also worth considering who the early adopters are likely to be within these groups. Early adopters are so named because they are among the first to adapt or change their practice in response to new information and ideas. They are often seeking practical solutions to the problems they perceive, or may have a strong commitment to a specific topic, such as patient safety or person-centred care.

How to go about it

Tips to engage health care practitioners

Connect your research topic to their daily concerns

Clearly demonstrate how your research insights address the priorities of individual groups. Tailor your messages, reflecting the priorities and language of each group. Bear in mind that key priorities for clinical staff often include improving patient experience and reducing workload.

Make the content of your communications as practical as possible

Establish clear connections between your research evidence and any implications for practice, including potential benefit, harm and costs. Where possible and appropriate, use patient stories and day-to-day examples to ground data and insights.

Keep communications tools concise and accessible

Provide short, tailored summaries of your research – for example, through one-page briefing sheets, a two-minute film or a diagram that provides a visual summary. Develop tools that help people to spread the message, such as PowerPoint slides they can download and insert into presentation packs.

Reference any journal articles

For those who need to access more detail. In exceptional cases where there is likely to be demand for more background, present reports using a 1:3:25 page format. This provides staged access: a one-pager on key themes; a slightly longer executive summary; and a total report that is no more than 25 pages long.

Exploit the channels practitioners use

Early adopter audiences are often best reached through conferences; on social media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook; and via profession-specific journals, newsletters and magazines. Bear in mind that many people in clinical roles may not have access to a screen for much of the working day, so may use phones to access online content. This could restrict their ability to download or read larger documents.

Use existing networks

Ideas in health care often travel through conversations and interactions among trusted peers. For this reason, communications within professional networks, conferences and collaboratives can be instrumental in promoting the uptake of good practice. As clinicians often need six weeks’ notice to take time out of a clinic, face-to-face meetings may be much easier to achieve through existing forums or groups.

Work with clinical and managerial champions

You may also want to identify and work with those who have central or trusted positions in professional groups or networks – for example, through the NHS England National Clinical Directors or the royal colleges and specialist clinical societies. Opinion leaders can be found at many different levels – they’re not just the most senior or ‘official’ leader in any network. Research suggests that peer ‘champions’ may be particularly useful when seeking to engage doctors.

Sharing research findings with practitioners: examples

Communicating about the potential to improve tracheostomy care

The National Tracheostomy Safety Project (NTSP) has undertaken research into the nature and severity of problems with tracheostomies in intensive care units, wards and the community. This research has demonstrated the significant impact that sub-optimal care has on patients. Consultant anaesthetist Dr Brendan McGrath is leading on the work to raise awareness of these findings among health professionals across the UK, funded by a grant from the Health Foundation.

There are important implications arising from this research for front-line hospital staff, managers, GPs and staff working in the community. They all have an influence on the outcomes for these patients, and the challenge has been demonstrating the relevance of our research to a wide range of professionals.

'We have tackled this by creating a suite of 30-second films in which the content is framed differently depending on the professional group. For example, our film for doctors focuses on these patients’ inability to communicate pain, and the implications for prescribing; in our film for nurses, we focus on the practicalities of bedside care; and for managers, we explore the impact of sub-optimal care on length of stay.

We’ve found we can communicate best practice much more quickly through film than through a written form, as staff can see the procedures and quickly grasp how they might need to adapt their own methods. The films will also act as a hook to prompt people to visit our website for more in-depth films and resources, tailored to their roles. We will be using social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn to promote the content, and we are planning to provide articles to the newsletters of the royal colleges.

My goal in my research is ultimately to improve patient care at the bedside, which means communicating the findings in meaningful and engaging ways directly to front-line staff. The great thing about online content is that we can track every interaction so we will know how many people we have reached, what they have looked at and for how long. While it’s a surrogate for measuring any impact on clinical and patient experience outcomes, I will have a much better understanding of the numbers of relevant staff reached than I would ever have gained through more traditional journal and conference routes.'

Dr Brendan McGrath, Consultant Anaesthetist, University Hospital of South Manchester and Lead Clinician for National Tracheostomy Safety Project

Communicating research on measuring and monitoring safety

In 2016, the Health Foundation published A framework for measuring and monitoring safety. This brief practical guide summarised an in-depth research project led by Professor Charles Vincent, Susan Burnett and Jane Carthey. It provided NHS staff with a framework for measuring and monitoring safety, and has since been downloaded more than 2,700 times.

The guide was tailored to the needs of practitioners in several ways. It included:

  • a visual summary of the framework, including five dimensions and associated questions to help individuals and organisations understand and discuss what it means to be safe
  • brief arguments in favour of a new approach to measurement, grounded in current debates
  • a summary of what the framework might mean for front-line professionals, managers, board members, regulators, and patients and the public
  • broad principles to consider in applying it, and prompts to help people focus on some of the main challenges
  • a brief summary of the research underpinning the framework and details of further resources.

'We think the guide proved as popular as it did because it synthesised an area of research that was highly relevant to those responding to the fallout from high profile patient safety failures in the NHS at the time.

We were not able to provide practitioners with definitive answers about the steps to take locally in measuring safety, but we could help them focus their conversations and planning through a set of principles and prompts underpinned by research. The framework also provided a visual summary that could be quickly grasped and understood, with many people downloading the supporting slides to share with colleagues.'

John Illingworth, Health Foundation Improvement Fellow

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