Friday, 10th November, 2017

How do we know we’re doing the right thing?

Can we assume that we already do the absolute best for every patient at Rowans Hospice? We certainly get lots of messages from family, friends and the patients themselves to that effect.  But as we know, “to assume makes an ‘ass’ of ‘u’ and ‘me’” (as the pun goes), because to assume means we don’t constantly push ourselves to review, evaluate, learn and improve.

Hospice care is a special philosophy of end of life care that has been built upon ever since Dame Cicely Saunders pioneered the holistic consideration of a dying patient’s needs in the late 1960s, when she founded the modern hospice movement (see more about this in this blog). Today, based upon her approach, Hospice care seeks to treat everyone as an individual and meet their unique medical, physical, social, psychological and spiritual end of life care needs. And at Rowans Hospice we strive to do just that.

But how can we be sure that we are doing the best for every single patient we care for? Well, we could argue we’ll never be 100% sure because every patient is individual, but we, as a conscientious and diligent organisation, have a role to play to ensure we are constantly learning and applying what we have learnt to enhance the end of life care we provide.

How do we learn? We learn by becoming involved in ‘research’.

So what is ‘research’?

Research is officially defined as “systematic investigation to establish facts and reach new conclusions”. Research, done properly and which asks the right questions, provides a stronger, statistically-proven evidence base to support the decisions we make, i.e. it results in evidence-based hospice care. We all know of large national charities whose sole remit is to carry out research into life limiting diseases. These charities receive huge levels of support because people understand how important it is that this research happens in order to progress our understanding and ability to overcome these illnesses.

Now, Hospices nationwide are increasingly being encouraged to play a similar, just as important, role, in order to further enhance hospice care.

In the context of hospice care, research has, to date, tended to involve internally monitoring and evaluating our own services through internal audit, patient satisfaction questionnaires and so on. Rowans Hospice is proud to now be taking a leading role in developing our capacity to carry out research to further enhance hospice care. We see this as an important role and we are best placed to understand many of the challenges still faced in end of life care.

To do this, we began by investigating internally; we asked our own staff to tell us what their areas of interest were, what their puzzles were and where they saw a need for further investigation to support their work. This generated fascinating opportunities for investigation.

To help answer these questions and puzzles, we have formed a ‘Rowans Research Active Group’, and have developed close, respectful partnerships with the University of Southampton and its student researchers. We have also formed a wider ‘Wessex Research Active Group’ involving other palliative care units and hospices in the region. Together we are taking a joint lead to be ready to conduct useful, relevant research that ensures we continue to deliver evidence-based care.

Sharing new knowledge will ensure we can continue to develop, enhance and support the care we provide

Importantly, whether Hospices are conducting research themselves or working with others to help direct research, we must share the new knowledge we accumulate, both to staff internally and with the wider hospice care community in all settings. This will ensure we can continue to develop, enhance and support the care we provide. We already do this by holding internal showcases for Hospice staff in order to effectively communicate outcomes of research, feedback and new ways to work.  We are also increasingly working with the University of Southampton to help direct research topics. In addition, we proactively support and enable our own staff, who have an interest, to conduct their own research and present the findings both internally and at national conferences.

But, therein lies an important message for our many loyal and generous supporters who make carefully considered donations to Rowans Hospice. By donating to the Hospice, you are funding both the delivery of hospice care and you are enabling us to invest in the research which enhances this care.

We are told every day that we do an amazing job for our patients and their families, but this is only because we never assume, rather we constantly challenge ourselves: – Are we doing the best we can? How do we know this? – By becoming involved in research in all its forms, whether collaboratively or by taking a lead ourselves, we are contributing to our own knowledge and understanding, to service innovation and development, and to hospice care nationally and across all care settings.

Together with our supporters, we are proud to be playing a key role in making end of life care better for everyone, everywhere, now and in the future, under the umbrella of exciting work and opportunity that is ‘research’.


Written with the help and support of Erika Lispcombe, Director of Clinical Services, and Jill Short, Nurse Specialist and Education Lead

To make a donation and support the ongoing enhancement of hospice care that Rowans Hospice is helping to drive through research, please click here.


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