Category: Ireland

Does it work? When doctors need evidence

Healthcare professionals can generate important clinical questions for addiction research. Answering such questions by conducting a Cochrane review of evidence is a satisfying learning process and can contribute to drugs policy. This article summarises the experiences of an addiction medicine researcher conducting a Cochrane review, developing and evaluating a researcher-facilitated programme for medical student research activity in general practice.

photo credit: theconversation.net

One summer afternoon in 2010, an interview with a family physician in Dublin opened my eyes about talking therapies for drink problems among people who also used other drugs. “Does counselling work for these people?” the doctor asked.  “Yes”, I was absolutely convinced about it, but I had no evidence for my faith. Surprised by his interest, I sent him the only two studies on the topic that I knew of; never heard back from him.

I searched for more studies without success. Many studies on general population showed up in my internet search, but none for people who also used other drugs.
This made me doubt my beliefs. At that time, a national funding agency announced a call for Cochrane training fellowships. Cochrane collaboration hosts the largest database of systematic reviews to inform healthcare decisions. Cochrane reviews are the jaguars of medical evidence synthesis. The fellowship was a godsend. I could use the funding to learn from Cochrane gurus and answer the Dublin doctor’s question by making the most of all available literature. My supervisor introduced me to a Cochrane author, Dr Liam Glynn, who reviewed self-management strategies for high blood pressure. He agreed to mentor my fellowship. We booked the title for our review with the Cochrane Drug andAlcohol Review Group in Italy and started to work on it when we got the funding.
The review found very few studies, most of which didn’t have a control group or randomised patients without drink problems; we could not give any recommendations to doctors.
The next step in the quest for the answer, we approached patients with dual drug and alcohol problems and fed their ideas back to the experts. Expert consensus recommendations are standard in the absence of scientific studies. The group had to rely on semi-structured interviews with doctors and patients and “B class” evidence from my review. The result of their consensus was a manual for family doctors.
Having developed the manual, we tested its value to answer our original question: “Does it work?” The new pilot trial encourages doctors to ask people who use illicit drugs about alcohol and to help those with mild problems; severe problems are best treated by a specialist.  Sixteen general practices (GPs) in two deprived regions will be randomised to receive the manual-based training or to keep doing what they do. The latter group will be trained later.
When I finished my Cochrane training and review, it was time for me to give back and teach medical students because the fellowships worked on the pay-it-forward model. Equipping the new generation of doctors with critical literature review and appraisal skills was my contribution to the improvement of addiction healthcare delivery. The aim of our teaching project was to create and evaluate a training-through-research programme for medical students, facilitated by a seasoned researcher.
We offered online webinars, methodological advice, mentoring, and one-one interaction. Our medical school emailed all students and we randomly selected a handful needed for our research projects. Collaborators from biostatistics, psychiatry and public health aided the programme. The students presented their work at four conferences and wrote three academic papers for medical journals.
Teaching literature reviews to medical students was a rewarding learning experience. I learned that the quality and commitment of students varies; different expectations led to different work processes and outputs. Some students submitted their work in more finished stage than others; competing priorities precluded achievement of higher standards. The manuscript preparation, submission and publication processes were too long for short student projects, although some students persevered and remained involved until the end.
From a personal perspective, I still don’t know whether counselling works for drink problems in people who also use other drugs, but I’ve learned how to query the literature when doctors need evidence.

This post is based on our presentation at the INMED conference in Belfast, and o recent article in the Substance Abuse journal. References:
  • Klimas, J., & Cullen, W. (2014). Addressing a Training Gap through Addiction Research Education for Medical Students: Letter to editor. Substance Abuse. doi: 10.1080/08897077.2014.939802
  • Klimas, J., & Cullen, W. (2014). Teaching literature reviews: researcher-facilitated programme to support medical student research activity in general practice. Poster presented at the Annual scientific meeting of the Irish Network of Medical Educators, February 21, Belfast, NI.

 

Think Broad: Irish Research Council ELEVATE Postdoctoral Fellowship Awards launched today

“You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals” – Marie Skłodowska-Curie

September 17th – the Irish Research Council is pleased to announce the launch of the International Career Development Awards – the ELEVATE Fellowships. Over 20 awardees confirmed their attendance. The speakers have been invited to give Awardees useful perspectives and food for thought before heading off on the international phase of this Fellowship. The launch has been a nice opportunity to meet fellow Awardees on this cohort.
The event took place in the Irish Research Council’s building, Brooklawn House, Crampton Avenue (off Shelborune Road), Dublin 4, Ireland, from 10am to 4.30pm.
Programme of the day:
10.00am-10.30am:      Welcome by the Irish Research Council
Introduction to Council Enterprise Team
Introduction to ELEVATE 2014 cohort
10.30am-12.30pm:      Dr. Janet Metcalf, Chair & Head of Vitae, ‘Careers for Researchers’
12.30pm-1.45pm:        Lunch and Networking
1.45pm-4.00pm:          Barbara Moynihan, On Your Feet ‘Present with Power’
Dr Metcalf’s talk focused on broadening the Fellows’ career aspirations: “I’ve never had any career plan, any career goal. Only two principles: catch every ball that’s thrown at me and make sure my decisions are widening my options, not narrowing them.”

Dr Janet Metclaf, photosource: vitae
 ELEVATEFellowship is a funding scheme of Irish Research Council which aims to fund Irish-based experienced researchers who have gained most of their research experience in Ireland so that they can acquire new skills and expertise while conducting high-level research abroad for two years and then return to Ireland for one final year with their newly acquired knowledge and expertise. The Irish Research Council International Career Development Fellowships are Co-funded by European Union through the Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions. In 2013, 15 researchers received the Fellowships for different projects from time travel through nanotechnologies to diamonds. The council funded similar schemes in the past, for example, the EMPOWER 2011-12 or INSPIRE 2009-11. This year, 25 fellowships were awarded to 5 academic and 20 industry-based projects. Text taken from www.research.ie
Barbara Monynihan, source: onyourfeet
 Irish Research Council (@IrishResearch) funds excellent researchers across all disciplines and encourages interdisciplinary research and engagement with enterprise.  The Council facilitates the career development of researchers by funding those at an early stage of their research career to associate with established research teams who have achieved international recognition for their work. The Council aims to support an expertise-driven research system in order to enhance Ireland’s innovation capacity and skills base in a rapidly changing global environment where knowledge is key to economic, social and cultural development. The Council is further committed to facilitating the integration of Irish researchers in all disciplines within the European Research Area. Text taken from www.research.ie
Maria “Manya” Salomea Sklodowska
© ACJC – Archives Curie et Joliot-Curie
 Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA) are European research grants for scientists in Europe and abroad. The objective of the MSCA is to support the career development and training of researchers – with a focus on innovation skills – in all scientific disciplines through worldwide and cross-sector mobility. For this, the MSCA provide grants at all stages of researchers’ careers, from PhD candidates to highly experienced researchers, and encourage transnational, intersectoral and interdisciplinary mobility. The MSCA will become the main EU programme for doctoral training, funding 25 000 PhDs.
Endowing researchers with new skills and a wider range of competences, while offering them attractive working conditions, is a crucial aspect of the MSCA. In addition to mobility between countries, the MSCA also seek to break the real and perceived barriers between academic and other sectors, especially business. The MSCA follow a “bottom-up” approach, i.e. individuals and organisations working in any area of research can apply for funding. Several MSCA initiatives promote the involvement of industry etc. in doctoral and post-doctoral research. Text taken from www.ec.europa.eu

I will be awarded the ELEVATE to do research on better addiction medicine education for doctors in Ireland and in Canada (www.addictionmedicinefellowship.org). Watch this space for more information.

Tantalizing exhibition: A night when I was a doctor, an artist and a winning writer

On the night of July 3rd, 2014, I was a doctor, an artist and a winning writer.

An artist

After 30 weeks of laborious drawing and preparing our final show, a group of 16 illustrators and picture book makers exhibited their work in the Culture box, Dublin. We were led by Adrienne Geoghegan. The night before, we hanged our show as illustrated by the photos at the bottom of this post. An illustrator Mr. Clarke opened the night with a story about a British writer who once told him that people talk shite at the openings of exhibitions; it’s such an Irish thing. Wine was pouring, but it was just enough to not make people drunk. The DJ Doolittle played hits from the 60’s.

A Doctor

When Mr. Clarke attended to his keynote duties, he chatted with the artists. I told him that I was one of the people that he mentioned in his opening address. I had great difficulties in fitting the drawing into my day as a scientist. “Are you the doctor, then?” he asked. “Well, I’m a psychologist by background, but I work with doctors.” He wished me well in trying to integrate both careers. Combining Art& Science in one life is like churning 2 things at the same time. And yet, I felt a sense of worth, success at the exhibition. I realized that I have an impact on people, they like me and my work. I’ve never fully realized this until that night. “Are you one of the artists?” Somebody asked me at the end of the night. “Yes,” I replied proudly.

The 2014 Aindreas McEntee awarding ceremony: Dr Coughland and Dr Klimas. Photo source: irishmedicalwriters.com

A winning writer

The 2014 Aindreas McEntee prize, is open to members of Irish Medical Writers, a group of doctors and journalists specialising in healthcare. I’ve submitted my entry on the day of the deadline, expecting little more than introducing myself to the arena of Irish medical writing. The third place came as a surprise. The award ceremony was on the same night as the tantalizing illustrations exhibition. Thankfully, they gave me the prize at the beginning and release me to go for the exhibition. At the end of the night, everybody has won and we all got prizes (dodo bird effect).

Clinical trials are about human dynamics: RCT course in Belfast, May 7-8

As a trialist, the pressure of working on a trial is much bigger than being in a small group educational session. Challenges of implementing a trial are multiple, mainly influenced by the values of outcomes for different people. Whose question is the trial answering? If you’ve ever found yourself puzzled by these issues, you may find some solace in reading my notes from a courseon clinical trials. 


7 instructors and 21 participants – all from Northern Ireland (except 2 Dubliners), 2 medics, three 1-st year PhD students and some professors – talked about clinical trials for two days last week at Queens University Belfast. The aim of the course wasn’t to learn everything, but to think laterally about trials. Professor Clarkecovered the basics of starting trials: formulating a clear research question, deciding on comparisons and placebos and dealing with confounding factors. The 7 main ways of dealing with confounding are:
  1. Matching
  2. Exclusion
  3. Stratified sampling
  4. Standardisation
  5. Multivariate modelling
  6. Randomisation

The pleasures and terrors of trial recruitment were described by Dr Maguire. Everybody struggling with meeting the recruitment targets should read the top 10 tipsfor recruiting into trials at the All-Ireland Hub for Trials Methodology Research website. Trialists should plan for what they’re going to do if things don’t go the way they planned. Recruiters can also become tired and it’s good to think ahead about what would possibly prevent them from recruiting. Even small rewards to recruiters, such as cream eggs, can increase their satisfaction. Satisfaction=Retention. Research networks for General Practitioners can facilitate recruitment.

Dr McAneney introduced us to the role of social networks in clinical trials. We are all connected.  All the users of Facebook can be linked by 3.74 steps. Networks make the trials work or crash. Networks allow diffusion of innovation. Decisions of participants and researchers are influenced by networks.

Prof McAuleyhelped the participants to write the protocol and funding application for their first trial. Publishing a trial protocol sets the bar pretty high for researchers – transparency and accountability are keyIf it’s not possible to publish the protocol in a peer-reviewed journal, then post it online. Every protocol is changed over time and they should be listed on the first page. The CONSORT diagram is an essential part of a protocol. It’s the only slide that’s projected during meetings of grant reviewers.

Dr Shorterand Prof Buntingcontinued with tips for analysing outcomes. The essence of any research is control. Although power calculations for trials seem difficult, they involve only a short sequence of basic steps. Categorical outcomes require more data and more participants than continuous outcomes. Analysis of clinical trials assumes that our participants are all from the same population. The classical assumption of trials analysis was that individual differences do not matter, they were ignored. Another assumption that things are measured perfectly never holds.

Finally, Dr Dunlopfinished the course presentations with ethics and data storage.