Case study: sourcing healthcare professionals & users with dementia
Back in March, the People for Research team was approached by one of our regular clients to help source participants for a project related to dementia on behalf of a well-known charity. Having worked on similar projects before, we were delighted to be asked to assist them again, but this was to be a project which demanded much more time and resources: the client needed over 40 participants across five different areas – London, Bristol, south Wales, Devon and Nottingham.
The brief also asked us to source different audience groups – service users/carers undiagnosed and diagnosed with dementia and healthcare professionals – so we decided to split this up in two different projects as the way we’d source both audiences would be different. The following groups were required:
It was decided that it would be better if I focused my full attention on the project to manage the participants and client expectations in every location.
As a starting point, we will always submit opportunities to our database, but for all projects we always assess if any extra free find work is required to source the right participants, whether it’s because we don’t expect the right people to apply or if numbers on our database are low in certain areas (e.g. Devon/Nottingham).
It was discussed with our client that certain groups would be trickier than others, particularly those who are undiagnosed, but worried they are showing symptoms of dementia. The response for this audience type was quite low, so it was decided to open it up to include more concerned carers of people showing symptoms of dementia. The undiagnosed, but worried group is also quite subjective: some of the participants considered themselves to be worried, but hadn’t really researched their symptoms.
The response from carers was positive in all locations, and we were able to source the right service users (people who have been diagnosed or worried they have symptoms) through their carers to take part in interviews simultaneously. This had been discussed as an option, since many participants simply wouldn’t have been able to attend without assistance.
Some healthcare professionals came through our database, but I expected to use free find to source the majority. Prior to sending the opportunity to our database I started collating contact information for relevant bodies for professionals (GP surgeries, memory clinics, local authority health boards), as well as service users (charity groups, day centres, care homes) to help us source to correct participants. As an incentive, we offered to donate £20 per person who successfully took part.
We’re very fortunate at People for Research to have built up experience of sourcing participants across different areas, including places of work, public spaces and at people’s homes. For this project, we had the benefit of having central locations in London, Bristol and Nottingham, but we had to manage this carefully in areas where offices weren’t an option or if participants couldn’t physically get to an office.
For instance, we had allocated three days of testing in London, two at the office and one for home visits. The challenge here was ensuring that time, availability, location and transport options were all managed to ensure the researcher could maximise their time by seeing the right people at the right times in the right locations.
Having the right participants take part was also very important, and we were fortunate to ensure this worked successfully for week one in London, as well as the days allocated for interviews in south Wales and Devon.
Flexibility is key with this kind of recruitment, as the participants’ time must be considered, whether they are a service user/carer or a GP who must give up their time between seeing patients.
For the healthcare professionals, it was a requirement to visit them at their place of work, but both parties (PFR and client) agreed this might not always be possible. In South Wales, the researcher visited one professional at home and another at a coffee shop, but the outcome of both interviews was still invaluable.
Flexibility and client communication
Having the flexibility to see healthcare professionals outside of their working environment meant the client was more likely to talk to the right people. Visiting them at work was a ‘nice to have’, and while we were able to source some professionals willing to speak at work this wasn’t going to be an option for the majority.
By maintaining regular communication with the researcher we were able to identify key individuals and discuss their experience and how valuable their opinion would be for the research. It was then decided that these people should be booked in and the location of the interview would be second to their experience.
Having that regular communication throughout this lengthy project was key. Daily phone calls discussed those who had been booked in, discussing their details on a shared Google spreadsheet which all members of the project were able to see, while feedback on interviews helped shape the recruitment of further participants – e.g. we put a stop on recruiting GPs once the interviewer had formed an opinion that they had received similar feedback from every one they’d spoken to.
Challenges of recruiting professionals & dementia patients
Having a brief which requires us to recruit different audience types can generate different challenges.
We were very fortunate to work with a client who was always available to discuss the project and any solutions we would suggest if we were having trouble getting the perfect participants. It’s already been mentioned above about the difficulty sourcing those who were undiagnosed, but worried they had symptoms of dementia, and the client was happy to simply speak to worried carers instead. This also highlights the flexibility of the client.
There were examples whereby some participants couldn’t provide the best feedback; some of those who were undiagnosed, but worried did express their concerns when screened, but with deeper probing during interview it transpired that their concerns may be related to other conditions. Participants ‘slipping through the net’ are rare, but the client was sympathetic and expected it to happen taking into account the volume of participants required.
The availability of healthcare professionals was another challenge, with so many approaches for participants either ignored or met with the response that resources were stretched and staff were unable to give up their time to take part.
The key to success
The key for the success of this project was built on the already strong relationship we had with the client to ensure both of us achieved our primary goal: to source and speak to participants with knowledge and experience of a very sensitive topic.
This was achieved through regular dialogue, professional project management and identifying problem areas of recruitment in which alternative options could be recommended at an early stage. This is just one example of a free-find project we have been asked to recruit, and while it did have its challenges it was a huge success as far as our client was concerned.
The lead UX consultant closed the project by sharing this feedback with the PFR team: “we totally appreciate it was a super hard brief and the timings were seriously tight, but you guys did us proud. I think it’ll end up being the best piece of research the [client] have conducted to date!”.
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About the author: Owain Johns is a Project Manager at People for Research. He is an experienced participant recruiter for UX and usability testing and market research sessions, as well as an expert in hosting usability testing sessions at User Viewing.
About People for Research: We recruit participants for UX and usability testing and market research. We work with award winning UX agencies across the UK and partner with a number of end clients who are leading the way with in-house user experience and insight.
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