I’m currently working as Research Fellow in the Centre for Public Health at Queen’s University Belfast. My role involves teaching and grant writing but mainly involves exploring ways of encouraging people to be more physically active (and how we can use technology to help do this).
Background to the KTP project
In 2012, I started work on a short KTP between Nuffield Health, the leading provider of physiotherapy services in the UK outside of the National Health Service, and colleagues in the School of Health Professions at the University of Brighton.
Lower back pain is extremely common with around 80% of us getting it at some point in our lives and it is associated with huge costs related to frequent episodes of treatment and work absenteeism. The project aim was to develop a new treatment pathway for managing back pain. This involved systematically reviewing current research evidence and summarising it in a clear, concise and accessible way for patients and clinicians. Pathway recommendations are not designed to present rigid treatment plans but to summarise the evidence and provide a rationale for using a particular treatment approach. They are based on a number of factors, including not only the effectiveness of an intervention (how good it is), but also on an assessment of relative benefits (are there possible harms), resource implications (cost/time) and the beliefs and expectations of patients and clinicians (are they confident it will work?).
Barriers during the project
There were a number of clear challenges associated with working on the project, mainly in terms of its scope and that it was completed over a very short timescale. The work that underpinned the KTP was by its nature, very academic. Carrying out this type of work in a busy office type setting proved a challenge but the availability of a gym in the office building to get some exercise in between hours of sitting at a computer was much needed (mostly to avoid ending up with the problem I was reading about!). There are also always challenges when attempting to implement any change in working practice within an organisation, but recognising this at an early stage and testing out different techniques to overcome this has provided me with a great opportunity and the experience to work more in this area since finishing the project.
Benefits of the project
The time intensive task of reviewing all the evidence is a necessary and from a research point of view, extremely worthwhile process (secondary project outputs included publications in peer reviewed journals and presentations at international conferences). However, as well as developing the pathway, a training system was developed designed to improve implementation of the pathway recommendations into ‘real world’ clinical practice, and improve the capacity of clinicians to critically appraise and apply research findings to their everyday practice.
With the valuable support of the wider project team, the other outputs mentioned were all driven by my own efforts and this is the key message I would try to get across. It might seem obvious, but success will be determined only by the thought and effort that you apply to your work. Make the project your own and something to be proud of. From the very start, think not just about what you want to achieve within the timescale of the project, but think about where you want it to take you next. Typically most projects run their natural course due to funding coming to an end, and its success (especially when one it trying to expand knowledge in a given area) can be judged not only on its immediate output but also on what it leads to.
Sean O’Connor, Senior Research Fellow
Centre for Public Health, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences
Queen’s University Belfast