News & Blog

Kate Neal, Health Experiences Research Group, 16th December 2011

My first patient experience interview

Yesterday I did my first proper patient experience interview with the Health Experiences Research Group. I have conducted a few interviews before, but only ever audio-recorded. Now I had to set up the camera equipment, check the lighting, sound, and the position of the participant. I had practised at home so that I felt happy setting up the tripod, adjusting the camera and remembering to attach the microphone. Yet with the participant there I was a little flustered, so keen was I to get everything right. Jenny Hislop was observing from the back of the room, which in one sense was very reassuring (I had asked her to step in if the interview seemed to be turning into a total disaster), but on the other, I was aware that a very experienced researcher was listening intently to my first attempt at such an interview!

I needn’t have worried, as the gentleman that I was interviewing was friendly, eloquent and keen to tell me his experiences. I first asked David* to tell me his story of being diagnosed and deciding what to do about it. In inviting David to tell me his story, he was able to speak freely and include issues which were important to him. I was aware that I should not interrupt David whilst he was telling his story, but nodded regularly and maintained eye contact to reassure him that I was listening and interested in his story. I did make a number of notes on my topic guide with questions and points I wanted to raise with David. On reflection, these would have been better written on a separate piece of paper, as the notes became numerous, cramped and chaotic, and therefore difficult to read! I was also aware of thinking I should not look too frequently at the topic guide, so as not to lead David to think I was not engaged with his story. I think this is unique to a one-to-one situation, and not really comparable with something like taking notes during a lecture. I appreciate that this skill will come with practice, but ‘interview multi-tasking’ is a technique I will need to work on. I may have maintained eye contact to the detriment of focusing on the topic guide. At the end of the interview, Jenny asked a couple of questions that I had missed out.

Back at the office, I uploaded the video and back-up audio recording. Not having had a microphone on myself, I realise that when I asked David questions I was a little quiet on the recording, so will need to project my voice more next time. The interview lasted nearly two hours, and I found it quite tiring – I think due to a combination of anticipation (both nerves and excitement), plus listening intently to what David was saying, and asking appropriate questions accordingly. Yet I thoroughly enjoyed the interview experience. I feel so privileged that David was prepared to share his experiences with me – including details on how it feels to have his condition, how it has affected his life, how he negotiated decisions about treatment, and what he thinks should be done about to raise awareness of the condition. It is crucial to remember that people volunteer to be involved in our research, and are under no obligation to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Therefore I feel that a sensitive yet inquisitive approach is required when conducting such interviews. Time now for some multi-tasking practice before my next interview…
 
  • *David is not the participant’s real name.

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