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Dr Jonathan Hill

Dr Jonathan HillDr Jonathan Hill is an academic physiotherapist and a lecturer in musculoskeletal physiotherapy at the Arthritis Research UK Primary Care Centre at Keele University.

What does your work involve?

I'm fortunate enough to have a fantastic job doing something I really enjoy, seeking to improve the treatments for people with arthritic conditions such as back pain. I work within a great team of colleagues at the Arthritis Research UK Primary Care Centre within Keele University in Staffordshire, but I'm also lucky enough to get alongside and treat people as a clinical physiotherapist at a local hospital. My particular focus is to create new clinical 'tools' that help doctors and physiotherapists choose which treatments to offer in the initial stages of a musculoskeletal problem.

How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?

I'm enormously indebted to Arthritis Research UK for funding my research career over the past 12 years. Initially, in 1999, I began as a research assistant to help Professor Krysia Dziedzic conduct a clinical trial investigating treatments for neck pain. Arthritis Research UK then went on to fund my PhD in 2003 to develop and validate a primary care screening tool for people with back problems. Following this, in 2007, I was awarded an Arthritis Research UK 5-year post-doctoral allied health professional lectureship to conduct a large clinical trial to investigate whether using our screening tool helps provide better outcomes for patients (The STarT Back trial).

What’s the most important thing you've found out in the past 12 months? Why?

In the last 12 months, I’ve learnt that often what seems to be preventing greater effectiveness is the constraints of the systems in which people work. Our research has taught us that it's possible to improve existing health care systems in ways that help clinicians put their skills to better use and result in much better treatments for musculoskeletal patients.

What's your greatest research achievement?

My greatest research achievement has been to have the STarT Back trial accepted for publication within The Lancet. This has given the study a very high profile and many health services are now starting to implement the study’s findings, both in the UK and abroad.

Why did you choose to do this work?

The issue that we wanted to address was the inconsistent and inefficient manner in which back problems are currently managed in the early stages. Most back problems initially have a 'non-specific' diagnosis. With the exact cause unknown, to decide on the right treatment doctors and physical therapists need to assess a broad range of influences on prognosis, including the spread of pain, functional difficulties, fears about the pain, and motivation and mood levels. But until recently, before we produced the Keele STarT Back screening tool, there was no validated clinical tool to help them assess the risks or choose the best treatment in the early stages.

Do you ever think about how your work can help people with arthritis?

My whole research focus is on finding ways to help people with arthritis. The new STarT Back system we've developed is already proving hugely popular internationally, and data shows that it's having a substantial beneficial impact where it's being implemented. It's an incredibly satisfying experience to see all the hard work over the past few years having such an enormous impact.

What do you do in a typical day?

My typical work day is spent sitting at a computer, writing papers, answering emails, supervising students, attending meetings and contributing to the research work in our department.

What do you hope or expect to achieve as a result of your Arthritis Research UK funding?

I’m coming to the end of this period of funding and am incredibly grateful to Arthritis Research UK for the opportunity they gave me, along with the help of some fantastic colleagues, to achieve such positive research over the past 5 years. In the remaining 6 months I’m seeking to put together a future programme of work that will help our research team to extend the STarT Back approach to a range of other arthritic problems, such as neck and shoulder pain, so that we can hopefully benefit even more people from our research.

What would you do if you weren’t a clinician/researcher?

I'm a keen, although rather amateur, musician, and for many years I’ve dreamt of having a career as a professional percussionist in a national orchestra. I still play the drums when allowed, and I’m able to fulfil my dreams in small measure as a member of the Derby Hospitals Band, which was formed to raise money for charitable funds that aim to enhance patient care.

About Jonathan

My home life is incredibly busy and full-on as I’m the father of four young, energetic children aged from 3–10 years old. Family life is very happy and enjoyable as thankfully I’m married to an incredible wife who does a superb job organising and looking after us all – me included!

This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Autumn 2011, issue 154.

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Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.