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Informing decision making in healthcare backed by a new standard of academic rigor

Written by QSR International with Mahmoda Begum
July 04, 2018

NVivo is helping the team at the Strategy Unit at NHS Midlands and Lancashire Commissioning Unit interrogate their data on a deeper level and make informed recommendations.

Background

The Strategy Unit hosted by NHS Midlands and Lancashire Commissioning Support Unit exists to improve outcomes through providing expert support and advice to public and third sector organizations. They work especially closely with Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships, emerging Integrated Care Systems and Clinical Commissioning Groups.  

Mahmoda Begum is a Senior Consultant within the unit. She works within a multidisciplinary team to support delivery of projects with a focus on high-quality research and evaluation. She contributes to generating, analyzing and interpreting evidence through mixed methods research approaches to evaluate change in health and social care.

While completing her Master’s degree in public health, Mahmoda had her first experience with NVivo. “Getting that experience allowed me to explore different research methods, and ways of critically looking at things. That’s now the approach I tend to take with qualitative research – that rigor and systematic academic way of doing things” she said.

Introducing academic rigor

The team at The Strategy Unit work with large amounts of data as part of their qualitative fieldwork, which includes transcriptions of interviews, focus groups and workshops, and researcher reflections. Access to data management and analyses tools in The Strategy Unit, such as NVivo, have allowed a new standard to be introduced to increase the quality of the outputs.

“Tools like NVivo have allowed us to support decision makers in the healthcare systems with the objective evidence of ‘what works’ and ‘what can be made to work’. We can be confident that it’s through a thorough analysis of all the data that has been collected in a timely and relevant way” she said.

The advantage of working to this standard is in being able to partner with academic organizations and publishing in peer-review journals. “Our approach wasn’t necessarily academically focused; it was more centered around meeting the needs of our health and social care leaders and practitioners that we were reporting to. Now we increasingly recognize the dual purpose of learning from and contributing to the evidence-base” said Mahmoda.

“It’s much more of a holistic approach than we had previously. There’s a few ideas that we’re actually working on now that could translate into academic papers, and NVivo has facilitated that” she said.

Showing NVivo’s benefits

Prior to Mahmoda joining the unit, the team had some initial exposure to NVivo, but she has been a driving force behind its adoption in the organization. For the past 18 months, the team have been working in NVivo, and utilizing its features beyond their standard data management activities. “We often try out new things that we think we might need for other projects, for example we’ve tried features like the visualizations, so we’ve tried to use it flexibly” said Mahmoda.

Showcasing the benefits of NVivo to her colleagues who have taken a more traditional approach to research has been a task Mahmoda has taken on with success.

“I’ve been able to show people in the organization who have come from a more traditional research background the benefits of NVivo by applying it to a dataset where they already had their own theories and notions around what the data was going to say” said Mahmoda.

“I was able to interrogate the data and say yes, these theories might match up to what you already think, but also there’s all these other ideas that you’ve missed out on. It’s been helpful to be able to give them the evidence to confirm their theories, but also demonstrate that some theories are simply their own preconceived ideas” she said.

NVivo has helped the team improve their processes for report writing methodology design and efficient analysis.  Looking to the future, the team want to be able to use it further in evidence synthesis, and to inform data triangulation. “The more people in The Strategy Unit who see the rigor and efficiency that NVivo provides, the more they value the benefit of using it” said Mahmoda.

NVivo in project work

The Strategy Unit were commissioned by NHS England to undertake a research project into appointment booking and other working arrangements covering the 10 High Impact Actions. The team interviewed practice managers of general practices, and looked at evidence that was already available with the intention to bring these pieces of information together in one place and explore the variations in access in general practice.

“We came up with a series of recommendations for the commissioners, national policy makers, and general practices on how general practices can improve appointment systems and other working arrangements for the access needs of their specific populations.  It was a substantial piece of work and hugely informative” said Mahmoda.

Overall, NVivo has been a welcome addition to the resources at The Strategy Unit, and has assisted in broadening the scope of what’s possible in their research and evaluation work. “Everything we do is evidence based, and NVivo really helps us practice what we preach” said Mahmoda.

“It’s something we want to use more widely, and we’ve got a lot of support internally to do that, we’re always looking for ways to improve and develop our skills” she said.

About the Strategy Unit at NHS Midlands and Lancashire Commissioning Unit and Mahmoda Begum

The Strategy Unit is a consultancy leading research, analysis and change from within the NHS.  They aim to support NHS, Public sector and third sector clients to understand the challenges they face, and make the best possible decisions, using evidence informed analysis and advice.

They work on a broad national level in the United Kingdom, and are made up of a team that have expertise and skills spanning from complex data analysis, decision support, research and development and strategic service transformation to executive-level strategic advice and evaluation.  They also work with a number of specialist associates and key partner organizations to deliver their services, including: ICF International, The Transformation Unit and the Health Services Management Center at the University of Birmingham. 

Mahmoda Begum is a consultant within The Strategy Unit, and has been a part of the team for just over 18 months. She comes from a research background and joined the team in a research and evaluation capacity and has helped drive the implementation of NVivo within the unit.  Mahmoda graduated university with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Science, but quickly decided a life of lab work wasn’t for her and moved to working in an applied social research setting, with a predominantly qualitative research focus. She has worked in the public sector for over 9 years, of which the last 4 years have been within the NHS.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

QSR International with Mahmoda Begum, the Strategy Unit at NHS Midlands and Lancashire Commissioning Unit

The Strategy Unit is a consultancy leading research, analysis and change from within the NHS. They aim to support NHS, Public sector and third sector clients to understand the challenges they face, and make the best possible decisions, using evidence informed analysis and advice. Mahmoda Begum is a consultant within The Strategy unit, and has been a part of the team for just over 18 months. She comes from a research background and joined the team in and research and evaluation capacity and has helped drive the implementation of NVivo within the Unit.

 

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