Matthew Lee, dwellSense Lead Researcher, Ph.D. Student in Human-Computer Interaction, Carnegie Mellon University
As mentioned in our previous blog post, each of our study participants has a different set of clinicians who provide care for them. At our request, our participants took out their address books to look up their doctor's information and shared it with us. Now we had the daunting task of trying to convince time-strapped physicians to spend 30-60 minutes with us to review the patient-generated data from the dwellSense system.
Our recruitment approach began with sending a letter to the physicians' offices that described the study, said it involved one of their patients, and emphasized how valuable their contributions would be to our study. We didn't hesitate to use whatever persuasive strategies we could think of, including name-dropping and some gentle groveling. We made sure to mention that the research was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a name that undoubtedly carried a lot of weight with clinicians. We also used the fact that I’m a student who’s working on completing my Ph.D. dissertation. The letter asked not only for the clinician to agree to an interview session to support the cause of the study, but also to support my Ph.D. dissertation. People often are willing to help students with their work in ways that they might not help a corporation or something a little less faceless. Fortunately, I didn't mind casting myself in the role of a struggling graduate student for the sake of science.
After we sent these letters to the clinicians’ offices, we waited. Fortunately, because many of the physicians were also part of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, we were able to find their email addresses on the University of Pittsburgh website and send the letter to them via email. To our surprise, we received responses from four of the primary care physicians we targeted within a week of sending the letter and/or email.
For those we didn't hear back from, we followed up with a phone call. Some offices received the letter, but other offices reported that the letters were lost in the sea of paperwork that flows in and out of the office. Many asked to have the letter sent again by fax, a 1980s-era technology apparently still widely used in doctors’ offices. After faxing the letters, we followed up with the offices to make sure they received them and got on the radar of the physician. We found that the front office staffs are usually quite accommodating of our requests to make sure the letters (and presumably other paperwork) get into the hands of the physicians.
Thus far, we have been able to interview five physicians, and we still have approximately seven physicians to follow up with to see if they would like to participate. Overall, we were delighted with the responses we have received so far. As we reflect on the reason for our success, we have come to find that certain physicians were really interested in the idea of patient-generated data, in particular, medication taking, and how it could provide a window in the everyday functioning of one their patients (with multiple chronic conditions). We also think that leveraging the fact that it is part of a Ph.D. dissertation and giving busy physicians a chance to help a student was another reason they were willing to make time for us. Stay tuned for a follow up post about some of the interesting findings from our interviews with physicians.