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Why focus groups are a valuable tool

Engaging patients and staff in focus groups provides rich and meaningful data that can then be used to inform and improve future practice and developments


Two recent experiences have given me the opportunity to take part in focus groups, both within education and healthcare. Therefore, I have really seen the value of them and the contribution participants can make to the development of services and issues they feel passionate about. Engaging patients and staff in focus groups provides rich and meaningful data that can then be used to inform and improve future practice and developments.

The first focus group activity saw me leading three groups of academic lecturers to seek their views on the barriers and challenges of using technology in the classroom. Staff were keen to be involved and infact the activity brought staff together from different teams and department who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to meet and discuss their practice. The discussions flowed and a number of staff thanked me afterwards saying it had been good to spend time collaboratively talking about some of the issues they faced and importantly sharing ideas about how they might address them. As the facilitator it was a real privilege to be able to work with staff in this way and provide a forum for them to be heard.

The second focus group was at my local cancer hospital, as a charity supporter they were seeking the views of patients and healthcare professionals on two areas of practice:

Topic 1:Public health issues and cancer.

Topic 2:Developing a symptom checker for cancer patients to access online.

Being part of these groups enabled me to hear patient’s views on both topics while also listening to people and contributing as a nurse and as someone who has experienced cancer care for relatives in the past. The staff were clearly committed to responding to their preferences and concerns which was an excellent example of working in partnership with people to make a difference and shape future services. The organisation recognised and respected the contribution that people can make to their own health and wellbeing and encouraged and empowered them to share experiences and decisions about their treatment and care. There was some interesting debate about the ethical implications of staff smoking and patients being allowed to smoke on site, these were challenging issues that need to be debated.

The groups’ views were diverse in the need for respecting the level to which people receiving care want to be involved in decisions about their own health, wellbeing and care. Clearly some patients and their families want the professionals to do this for them as they see services such as the specialist cancer services as the experts. This links well with the NMC Code (2015) and the standard to prioritise people and practice effectively. Engaging with patients, service users and their families in this open and transparent way promotes professionalism and trust and allows healthcare professionals and educators like myself to work collaboratively with them to develop and improve services.

So I would encourage you wherever you work to actively engage in focus groups as a means of having your views heard and contributing to the future developments within your organisations. It is also a great way of talking to your patients and their families about their views and ideas for what needs to change. Taking part in such activities will also contribute to your evidence for revalidation so it’s an opportunity not to be missed.