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New resources: explaining patient data in an accessible way

covers of the easy-read guides

Today, Understanding Patient Data have published new, accessible resources that explain how patient data is used and the role of large-scale health datasets in research.  

There’s an easy-read guide, which has been co-created with adults with learning disabilities based in Suffolk and Leicester, available in both English and Gujarati. There’s also a talking text video where a narrator reads out the guide—see below for all the links.   

Understanding Patient Data want these resources to be used by teams that need to communicate the way patient data is used to a range of different audiences so they are available under a CC-BY license.  

How we got here 

“At Understanding Patient Data, we strongly believe that everyone should be able to understand how patient data is used. But we don’t always know the best way to communicate these messages to different groups, which is why co-creation is so critical.”

“So, we worked with ThinklusiveAce Anglia and the Centre for Ethnic Health Research to produce these resources. Their teams led the co-creation sessions and the development, testing and refining of the guides and video. A huge thank you to all involved, especially the participants whose valuable expertise was crucial to developing the guide.”

The engagement sessions were attended by a diverse group of people from Suffolk and Leicester—take a look at the back cover of the guide for a little bit more information about some of the people who took part. Sharifa, one of the contributors from Leicester said: “What I liked about the session is that it is interactive, got to meet a lot of different people, there’s a lot of information that I didn’t know before that, that I was glad I learned.” 

Mary-Lou Owen, an artist and disability rights activist who took part in Suffolk, said: “Being part of making things like this easy-read will hopefully help someone else have a better outcome in my situation. I also know when you are faced with that pressure of life and death all sense goes out the window so easy read would be good for just anyone in my opinion.”

How organisations can use these resources 

These guides have been designed for—and with—people who have some additional communication needs but they could also be helpful as an introduction for anyone new to this issue.  

If you’re in an organisation or team that collects, manages, uses or explains patient data then there’s a few different ways you could use them:  

  • Publish them on your website: download and host them on your site, on pages or areas where you explain how patient data is used. 
  • Use them in engagement work: if you’re running sessions about patient data, they could be used as discussion prompts or introduction materials. 
  • Build on this approach to create something more tailored to your work: draw on the content and approach we’ve taken here to develop your own version, more relevant to your specific context. 

There will also be things we haven’t thought of, so do get in touch and let us know how you’re using these resources. You can write to: hello@understandingpatientdata.org.uk.  

The links

cover of the easy-read guide - How the NHS uses our personal health information

How the NHS uses our personal health information – Suffolk (English version)

Opens or downloads a pdf

File type: pdf
File size: 13 MB

Download How the NHS uses our personal health information – Suffolk (English version)
cover of the easy-read guide - How the NHS uses our personal health information

How the NHS uses our personal health information – Leicester (Gujarati version)

Opens or downloads a pdf

File type: pdf
File size: 11 MB

Download How the NHS uses our personal health information – Leicester (Gujarati version)

Stories from the heart: a blog from Mary-Lou Owen and Paul Charlton

In this blog, ‘Stories from the Heart’, Mary-Lou Owen and Paul Charlton reflect on an accessible information approach to understanding patient data.

Mary-Lou was a project participant and is an artist and disability rights activist.

Paul was a project tutor and is a use MY data member and a NIHR Patient Research Champion.

May-Lou and Paul write:

Our project set about challenging inequality in our understanding of how personal health information is used for health research and planning. Not all citizens have equality of access to understand and to trust how their personal health and care data is gathered and used.

There were two groups co-creating and co-producing the material – one from Suffolk and the other from Leicestershire. There were learning disabled, autistic, sensory disabled and non-disabled participants. We had interpreters for sign language and for Gujarati speakers.

There are 1.5 million learning disabled adults in the UK. There are around 1 million autistic adults. One in six adults in England, 7.1 million people, have very low literacy skills as defined by the UK National Literacy Trust. That’s 16.4% of the population. One in four adults in Scotland, one in eight in Wales and one in five in Northern Ireland, experience challenges because of low literacy.

There are health inequalities between ethnic minority and white groups, and between different ethnic minority and different white groups.

By creating digital materials, based on easy-read design principles, we set out to co-create accessible information about the uses of patient data. With graphic design expertise by Max Clark of Thinklusive we set out to:

  • increase understanding of large data set usage in health research in communities where usual information is more difficult to understand
  • engage with and involve learning disabled, autistic and physically disabled adults to co-create and co-produce a set of learning materials in understanding large data set usage in health research  – we did this in Suffolk including makaton and sign language interpreter support
  • similarly co-create and co-produce materials as culturally and linguistically appropriate in respect of different ethnicities – we did this with the Leicester based The Centre For Ethnic Health Research who brought together learning disabled and autistic adults, family carers, support workers and Gujarati language interpreters

Although we were primarily aiming our materials at people with an additional communication need, we also hold the expectation that accessible materials support anyone who is new to patient data or health research studies.

The late Dame Fiona Caldicott, as the National Data Guardian for Health and Social Care, wrote to support our project bid to potential funders:

“I was pleased to hear about this project and strongly support its aims. It is vital that we make every attempt to reach all audiences when we’re having important conversations about data and its value. Data is a complicated topic, and so taking steps to tailor those conversations and the language we use, to better help some audiences understand, is an admirable aim. I do hope that this project is granted the funding that will allow it to proceed.”

Our groups explored media and health literacy as the doorway to understanding patient data. There were seven Suffolk learning events, some organised in person, some as hybrid meetings with some people participating in person and others via a zoom link, others just as zoom. There were also four Leicester meetings, two in person and two by zoom.

Our learning material adopted The Evidence Hunter Activity Pack, created by the charity Sense About Science and published in January 2019. The Pack was adapted into an Easy Read format for the presentation material.

Our discussions raised personal and family experiences of disease and family distress, drawing in pandemic experience as well. Our diverse experiences allowed the workshops to develop critical thinking skills from Hunter Evidence hypotheses, into real world events and from personal memories to achieve a certain understanding of the use of patient data in health care.

These exchanges caused Joel, one of the participants, to powerfully describe our discussions as Stories from the Heart.

Mary-Lou describes why:

“In July/September (not 100% on date) 2021 I was on zoom with Max and Paul Understanding Patient Data as Stories From The Heart. We were shown a youtube video of information on someone having a heart attack, but weren’t warned of what the video was, prior to watching it. My 1st reaction was to slam my laptop lid down and storm off but I didn’t…. I just turned off the camera and sound on my laptop and then got up and got some juice, sat there and cried (I didn’t see any of the video). Once the video had stopped I wiped my eyes and then put my video and sound back on so I could be seen.”

So why did I cry?

I cried when the project left the ‘dry’ compass of ‘what is’ patient data and tracked its way into the ‘why’. We were using the Understanding Patient Data videos of health conditions connected to routine patient data collection. They describe ‘why data saves lives’ through cartoon videos where stories of cancer, dementia, stroke and heart attack are unpacked.

I was in my own home, joining online.The video took me back to “27th July 2015 at 3.55pm…. My mum had a heart attack and died in the house a few metres from where I was doing my zoom…..My mum had a heart attack and died, here”

Dame Fiona Caldicott and I experienced the same heart-felt intention, Dame Fiona as a matter of sincere public policy and me and everyone else in the groups as individual citizens whose personal experiences of understanding why we routinely collect patient health information are for us, ‘Stories From the Heart’.

In our Suffolk and Leicester workshops our stories revealed accounts of how personal and family stories bring emphatic patient data understanding. This is even when, as with our project, we co-created and co-produced the project and its outputs through media and health literacy approaches. Critically thinking about how personal health information comes to us, its sources and the evidence relied upon, all resonate so much more emphatically when those come as personally relevant….when linguistically and culturally appropriate….and when explored through each one of us as Stories From the Heart.

This video link is to Sharifa and Rachida from the Leicester group. Please use the video subtitle assist when watching it. Sharifa and Rachida reveal the strength in co-creative working, their words exclaiming their satisfaction in knowing they created the content of the project documents. As well, they assert their new understanding of the use of personal health information.

Thank you to every single person who co-created this project!

The NHS has recently launched the 'Help Us, Help You' campaign. The campaign encourages people to contact their GP if they are worried about a symptom that could be cancer. Find out more: NHS.uk/cancersymptoms ...

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