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Research by Senior Lecturer Dr Julie Sutton, from the University of Chester, suggests storytelling and audio podcasts can be used to guide and stimulate debate amongst those who can influence positive change in service provision.

In her recent study, entitled ‘Use of storytelling and audio podcasts in qualitative research’, Dr Sutton explored how using audio podcasts, detailing the personal stories of parents of children with developmental disabilities, could provoke discussion amongst a team of sleep professionals and service evaluators.

Podcasts were developed from a set of initial interviews with parents which explored their experiences of receiving sleep hygiene education* from sleep services, to tackle their children’s sleep problems. 

Julie, a Senior Lecturer in Practice Learning in the University’s Faculty of Health and Social Care, explained: “The storytelling formed part of a wider research project, which developed a sleep hygiene education tool specifically to meet the needs of children with developmental disabilities.

“Collating service users’ stories of how they experience healthcare is at the heart of NHS service improvement initiatives. By sharing personal stories of experiences of care we can encourage the patients’ meaningful involvement in evaluating the effectiveness of the services they are using.”

The use of personal stories to evaluate and improve health services is a well-established approach among researchers involved in service evaluation.

Traditionally, exploratory interviews with patients or service users are videoed and edited to create a visual film, shown to service evaluators to encourage debate. However, during this study the storytelling was delivered via an audio podcast instead.

Dr Sutton said: “Sharing parents’ stories through an audio podcast felt like a powerful way to unearth the complexities of parents’ experiences and deepen understanding of how sleep services and sleep hygiene education should be delivered.

“It allowed the evaluators to be present and mindful in listening to parents’ accounts, undistracted by the visual presentation of parent contributors. It also helped to spark emotional connections with real and personal issues, helping those listening to identify priorities for change.”

She added: “Patient and public involvement is becoming increasingly important and audio podcasts can provide a usable and effective way to engage with those who use our services. They can help stimulate emotional connection which results in health professionals and service evaluators being able to identify and prioritise areas for change.”

*Sleep hygiene education involves guiding families on creating optimal sleeping conditions for their child and includes advice around consistent bedtime routines and limiting caffeine intake.

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