By Johanna Spiers
Research associate, Centre for Academic Primary Care, University of Bristol
The news is full of stories about the issues currently facing GPs and their surgeries: increased patient demand, short consultation times, reduction of funding, and increased bureaucracy. As a result of these pressures, many GPs might be experiencing anxiety, depression, stress or burnout. Our qualitative interview study is setting out to learn what it is like to be a GP living with a mental health issues or burnout. Given the culture of invulnerability in which doctors tend to work, and issues around colleagues having access to confidential notes, what it is like to be a GP living with a mental health issue – and how do these people go about accessing help?
We were a little concerned about recruitment. Would GPs want to speak out about conditions that are sadly still stigmatised? Would they recognise symptoms of burnout within themselves – and if they did, when would they find the time to talk about it?
In addition to publicising the study through the study team’s networks, the LMCs, and an advert in Pulse, we decided to think a little more creatively about recruitment strategies in addition to the usual routes. We created a Twitter account for the study, @GPWellbeing, which has been hugely beneficial in creating a buzz around the project. The account has been used to post interesting findings from the study’s literature review and to retweet relevant posts from others in the field, to encourage people to follow us and start a dialogue. Additionally, we have been posting two or three recruitment tweets per day, letting people know about the research and giving information about who we are looking for and how they can get in touch.
In the space of one month, we have sent out around 180 Tweets and gathered 130 followers. GPs and research bodies have been very helpful in retweeting our recruitment messages, getting the word out to many more followers than just ours; for example, Dr Clare Gerada, a named collaborator on the study, has more than 35,000 followers on Twitter, meaning the audience for potential participants is huge! Twitter seems an especially relevant forum for recruitment to this particular study; many GPs are on Twitter these days, with some using it as a way to communicate with patients. Given the fact that our potential participants are overworked, a short tweet seems like a more effective way to let people know about the research than a traditional lengthy invitation letter and info sheet.
Indeed, social media has helped with recruitment in other arenas. I wrote a blog for the CAPC website about the study and some of the potential issues around the topic. This blog has also been retweeted by GPs and research bodies, leading to more exposure for the study and more recruits. Indeed, on the back of that blog, we have written an opinion piece for GP Online, which is due to be posted in the coming week, and which we hope will result in further recruitment.
So, were our fears around recruitment founded? Well, at the time of writing, we have been recruiting for just 20 days. We have 19 participants booked in for interviews, and 22 more who have expressed an interest. Given that we only need 40 participants for this qualitative study, it would seem that our methods have been very successful – we would urge more researchers to utilise social media to recruit where it is appropriate to do so.