The Brilliance of In-Context Research in Healthcare Spaces

4 min read
Azia Ali
Lead Design Researcher
Design Research

In the realm of healthcare, research helps to inform us, and it shapes the lifesaving environments of healthcare spaces and the crucial devices within them. I am passionate about research in healthcare, where the end goal is not just innovation, but also meaningful impact for patients and healthcare professionals. Whether it's on-the-ground testing of new medical devices with healthcare professionals or patients, or analysing propositions and prototypes in labs, I am here for it all.

The Power of In-Context Research

Conducting in-context research in clinical spaces unlocks a treasure trove of insights. This method shines in capturing subtle, non-verbal cues that might be missed in interviews, especially those where we bring practitioners into our space (aka the lab). These 'silent behaviours’ can be critical in understanding the actual use and effectiveness of medical devices and processes in real-time.

It’s worth considering some practical tips for effectively setting up research in a clinical setting.

The patient experience doesn’t start at the Hospital or Doctor’s surgery. Far from it. For example, hospital research often uncovers solutions to challenges associated with the patient's journey to and within the hospital, and even their long-term care post-discharge. Importantly, this also extends to healthcare practitioners' experiences, the tools they have, and the support and workload they have.

Pre-research there'll be some activities to ensure are in place before you set out.

Securing Access for In-Hospital Research

Gaining access to hospitals, wards or equipment is usually facilitated by the client.

Often this relationship/connection involves a briefing by the client to the facility to explain the purpose of why you are there, and any scheduling or access needs required to conduct the research.

  • ID. It may be worth considering taking ID with your name and company, so that it differentiates you from medical staff.
  • Thinking about your introduction. You'll need to ask permission to talk to them about some research you're doing. Find out if it’s convenient to talk or if you can come back. A busy ward can be challenging to conduct research in. Imagine a busy ward, with staff changes, potential emergencies, medicine administration or dinner time, and not everyone on the ward will understand why you are there. It may not matter but it’s good to have awareness.
  • Travel Light. Hospital environments don't lend themselves to bulky equipment, so minimise your gear to the essentials. Notepad and pens, dictaphones can be helpful but sometimes unreliable due to background noise or patients that speak quietly. It’s not like a lab environment and you shouldn’t be asking patients to wear any microphone devices. Hands off.
  • DBS Clearance. Having DBS clearance is helpful in a hospital setting as an added credential. It’s most important if you will be in a children's ward.

What’s useful to consider when you’re at the hospital?

  • Engage with Ward Managers. Understanding the ward setup, who’s on duty and at what times, is useful to understand. Also, where they might be stationed in case you have any questions. You may need to check in and out of wards for health and safety, so check if you need to do this.
  • Photos and video. Usually not permitted on a ward but you can always check with the ward manager especially if you want to take photos of equipment. A nice tip is if it's a piece of paper or light equipment, I’d ask if I could take a picture outside the ward in a quiet space of the corridor.
  • Which patients? Sometimes the ward manager won’t want you to speak to some patients. For instance a patient in bed three might be too sick to speak and on a rest plan.  
  • Team dynamics. Operating in pairs can be effective, particularly with mixed-gender teams, to accommodate ward restrictions based on patient gender. It helps to split up in these instances. Where you can work together as you would in a lab setting and alternate with facilitation and notetaking is also helpful. Check with the ward manager if you can interview in twos.
  • Be mindful of your presence. Know when to step back, and always ask for permission, beware of the equipment around you.
  • Hospital locations. If it makes sense, extend your research to hospitals in various locations to gain a broader understanding of different operational styles and tools, both paper-based and digital.
  • Speaking to participants. Try to keep your scripts short, even if it means you might have to revisit a patient at a different time. They won't typically be incentivised so they’ll be giving up their rest to talk to you.
  • No Polos, or anything else for that matter. When I often did these visits, as patients tended not to be incentivised, I always had a pack of polos, don’t ask me why. Not a lot’s changed, you might have the urge to offer out of politeness, but don’t. Patients might be on a special diet or have allergies.
  • Visiting hours. You’ll need to gauge whether visiting hours are appropriate. I used this to my advantage as not everyone has visitors. It’s often more noisy during that time but still possible. Obviously if the patient has visitors whilst you’re there, then assess if it’s okay to stay and try to finish up quickly or ask if you can come back later. 

By incorporating these considerations into your research strategy, you can ensure a respectful, insightful, and comprehensive exploration within healthcare settings. The goal of in-context research is to develop solutions that are not only innovative but also empathetic to the real-world complexities of healthcare delivery.

Explore our healthcare sector experience or reach out to Azia Ali if you need advice on conducting in-context research!

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