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Dr Lisa Roberts

Lisa RobertsDr Lisa Roberts is an Arthritis Research UK senior lecturer in physiotherapy/consultant physiotherapist.

What does your work involve?

My two main roles, as a senior lecturer at the University of Southampton and consultant physiotherapist at Southampton General Hospital, enable me to undertake a mix of research and clinical work. My research programme (made up of three studies), involves measuring the communication and clinical decisions that are made between physiotherapists and people with back pain. In the first study, I visited patients at home (to understand their expectations) and observed their first consultations. I interviewed the physiotherapists (about what they think they said) and patients (about what they think they heard), which was fascinating.

In the current study, I’m observing the initial consultation and all physiotherapy treatments for patients with back pain, recording verbal communication, body language and how treatment decisions are made. The final study, planned for 2012, involves running workshops for physiotherapists to improve communication and decision-making and measure the effect on patient satisfaction and health outcomes.

How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?

My Arthritis Research UK fellowship started in 2007 and will be complete in 2013.

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

Previous research has suggested that patient-therapist relationships are more important to success than treatment techniques. One of the most interesting aspects of this work for me has been asking clinicians what they think they said about back pain diagnoses and asking patients what message they took home. It's interesting when these views concur and fascinating to see how and why differences arise. The findings are relevant to health professionals who seek to explain clinical findings to their patients.

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

The aim of my research programme is to listen to people who use the service, find out what they value most in healthcare consultations and improve communication to deliver better patient experience and outcomes.

What do you do in a typical day?

Some days are spent gathering data (observing treatment sessions) and analysing the interactions and decisions that occurred. Twice a week I’m at the hospital, either in clinic assessing and treating people with spinal and upper limb pain, teaching or helping colleagues design and deliver audits. The role is really varied and my clinical work helps keep me focused on how my research can make a difference and be applied in practice.

What's your greatest research achievement?

There have been two events that really stand out for me. The first was being awarded my fellowship from Arthritis Research UK and having this opportunity to focus on improving patients’ experiences, which I feel so passionate about. The second event happened in 2007 in Vancouver, at the World Confederation for Physical Therapy. Every four years, physiotherapists from around the world get together at a large conference and I was fortunate to receive a travel award from Arthritis Research UK to present work I'd been doing with colleagues from the Wessex Neurological Centre, reviewing 'red flags', which are signs and symptoms that suggest a patient with back pain may have a more serious underlying condition. This work received the only UK Outstanding Presentation award (1 of 17 worldwide), which was both a great surprise and honour. I'm really grateful to Arthritis Research UK for making both of these events possible.

Why did you choose to do this work?

The inspiration for this work came from clinical practice. I had often discussed with colleagues how two patients presenting with similar conditions could have such different outcomes, sparking an interest in 'non-specific treatment effects'. This work builds upon my PhD, which considered perceptions of control in people with back pain, and subsequent work undertaken by one of my MSc students, Sally Bucksey, who was also interested in communication.

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

Yes, I do! Every week, through my clinical work and research, I meet people with a range of different symptoms, often caused by arthritis. To hear how they manage these and the challenges they face keeps me motivated. I must confess that I also have a vested interest in this field as I was diagnosed with sero-negative arthritis when I was 19, which serves as a daily reminder of the importance of research in this area.

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

I’d probably develop my passion for dancing and finish my dance teacher training. I met my husband through ballroom and Latin American dancing, and when we finished our amateur exams (which took 12 years) we started our professional exams together, which are a lot more challenging!

About Lisa

I'm a mum to a very busy 8-year-old and we love spending time as a family, whether it’s working on brownie projects, activities at church, music, local history, arts and crafts or going on picnics and walks in the beautiful New Forest with friends and family. Apart from dancing, I’m involved in scouting and I work with the charity BackCare as a trustee; for the last 21 years I've helped to run evening hydrotherapy sessions for the Southampton branch. Life is certainly full and fun – I only wish there were more hours in the day!

This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Spring 2011, issue 152.

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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.