What is your current role and what do you enjoy about it?
I work for a company called Spoonful of Sugar (SoS), which was founded by Rob Horne, Professor of Behavioural Medicine at University College London (UCL). So, we’re a spin-out company from UCL.
At SoS, we help people to understand health problems, and treatments, so everyone can get the most out of treatments. We use an approach that’s steeped in behavioural science. We draw on the evidence base, and work with healthcare professionals and people who have lived experience of health problems to explore their thoughts, experiences and needs.
Doing all that enables us to create high-quality health information that has the added bonus of being behaviourally intelligent, meaning it takes into account all of the factors that influence behaviour.
It is thought that between a third and a half of all medicines prescribed for long-term conditions are not taken as recommended. So, you can see how important it is to understand behavioural factors relating to treatment – and to take a no-blame approach when doing that.
What’s great about working for SoS is the opportunity to work with experts like Rob who have contributed directly to the evidence base in behaviour change. This field of research seems so important to health. Most people know that lifestyle factors such as smoking and drinking alcohol, physical inactivity and unhealthy diets can all damage our health, but we don’t necessarily find it easy to change our behaviour even if we want to.
What’s your biggest health information challenge?
I think the biggest challenge relates to time and money: finding ways to make the most of limited budgets and get things done to deadlines that often seem quite tight.
There are obviously ways to streamline work, such as using templates that prompt you to consider topics that come up repeatedly in health information. You can see by looking at the way information is structured on the NHS website, for example in the ‘Health A-Z’ and the ‘Medicines A-Z’, that such templates can work well.
Fortunately, this doesn’t need to dampen down creativity. You can always still approach each new projects in a fresh way. I think that’s important for the audience, and for your own professional satisfaction.
What’s the best bit about working in health information?
It sounds corny, but I’m inspired by the chance to ‘make a difference’ by creating health information that really helps people.
What do you find useful about being a PIF member?
I first found PIF when I’d been working as a freelancer for several years. There are lots of advantages to being freelance, such as the flexibility it gives for fitting work around family life and the chance to work on a wide variety of projects, but there are downsides too. For example, if you’re not careful, you can feel quite isolated. And, with no employer to guide you, you have to take control of your own training and career development.
So, I was delighted to find PIF, because PIF is such a wonderfully sharing community of people, learning from each other, supporting each other, and all doing their best to keep quality high in health information and ensure everyone has access to the information they need.
What has been your ‘lightbulb’ moment whilst working in health information?
There are so many ‘lightbulb’ moments. I’ve been writing about health for over 20 years and I’m sure there’s always more to learn. For example, our increasing understanding of health literacy is really good to see.
I’d say that PIF is right to focus on both ‘information’ and ‘support’. We need to get the basics right, like making sure that information is clear, accurate and easy to understand, and that it tells people what they need to know, so it is actually ‘informing’ people well.
But information can do so much more than that. Information can also be a source of ‘support’ if it makes people feel like someone understands what they’re going though, like someone is there for them, if it feels like a helping hand, like a caring friend, like it’s offering a way to make life better.
As someone who started out in science, in biochemistry, I think I probably focused originally on getting my facts right. But when we are ill, we can experience a wide range of emotions, which can be pretty overwhelming, and it’s not just facts that are going to help. It’s empathy too, and ways to deal with those emotions.
So perhaps that’s my ‘lightbulb’ moment… realising that health information can both ‘inform’ and ‘support’ people.