England striker Jermain Defoe teams up with physios to kick-start a study of patient voices

Professional footballer Jermain Defoe has collaborated with two physiotherapists on a new project, which aims to highlight the voices of patients in research.

Sports therapy lecturer Osman Ahmed with professional footballer Jermain Defoe

The England-capped player worked with physiotherapists Osman Ahmed, a senior lecturer in sports therapy at Bournemouth University, and Tracy Blake, an academic from the University of Toronto, who are co-leads of the Patient Voices initiative.

Mr Defoe, who recently signed to play for Rangers Football Club, contributed his thoughts and experiences to the first in a series of patient-focused studies published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Dr Ahmed told Frontline: ‘We are trying to get patients engaged at all levels of the research process and the Patient Voices series is designed to share their first-person perspectives.

‘It features first-hand accounts from patients, including recreational and elite athletes, who talk about various aspects of their medical care so that clinicians can learn from their insights.

‘Tracy and I have been co-leading on the series, and we were lucky enough to have Jermain as our first participant, as well as having him as a co-author for the editorial launch.

‘We are hoping his involvement and our work on this series will encourage other clinicians to involve the athletes or patients they are working with so they can share their stories as well.’

Relying on rehab

Jermain Defoe talked about the importance of rehab for professional football players

During the study, Mr Defoe talked about the changes he has seen in sports medicine since his professional career started in 1999.

He also provided advice to clinicians about how to best manage an experienced or elite athlete, such as a premier league footballer, with one of his top tips being to ‘trust the player’.

‘A lot of times in elite sport the physio and doctor may get pressured by the manager when players are injured,’ said Mr Defoe.

‘With an experienced player though, they will know their body more and it is important to trust the experience of the experienced player.’

He also emphasised how important rehabilitation was, in terms of enabling elite athletes to cope and meet the demands of their sport.

‘Players need to be patient and that’s where the doctors and physios are so important, as they have to be strong and not rush the player back.’

Humanising patients

By sharing the personal testimonies of patients, Dr Ahmed hopes the Patient Voices project will help to increase empathy and remind busy clinicians that every single patient is a unique person, with their own thoughts, feelings and emotions.

‘Each publication has three take home points that we want clinicians to consider, so that when they see patients they start to think “Ok, if I was this patient what might be the key things that I would want a physio treating me to know?”,’ he said.

‘For a patient waiting to have surgery those key things may be that they’re scared or worried. Whereas, for an elite athlete, it may be they’ve had a lot prior injury experience, and they feel they may have useful suggestions about the type of treatments that have and haven’t worked for them in the past.’

Encouraging wider patient involvement

Dr Ahmed, who is also the senior associate editor at the British Journal of Sports Medicine, said he viewed the project is part of a wider effort to encourage more patients to actively participate in research.

‘For instance, as part of my work with the British Journal of Sports Medicine we are trying to get patients to review the submissions we receive. Alongside that, we have introduced changes to the submission process. Now, when any submission comes through to the journal the authors have to declare whether they have involved patients in the design of their study.

‘We are also working with the organisers of sports medicine conferences to encourage them to use patient reviewers for abstracts submitted for conferences, and to invite patients onto conference planning committees.

‘And offering patients the opportunity to take part in presenting studies they’ve been involved with as participants, so they can get their perspectives across.’

Many more voices waiting to be heard

The British Journal of Sports Medicine has already published three of the Patient Voices studies and Dr Ahmed said many more are planned.

‘As well as talking to Jermain about his experience as a veteran elite athlete, we have also interviewed a Paralympian who spoke about having two hip replacements and then returning to play sport, and a patient who shared details about the complicated neck fusion surgery they underwent and about how they felt before and after their operation,’ he explained.

‘And over the coming year we will have other ones that will focus on patients’ first-hand experiences of topics such as concussion, Lyme disease and eating disorders.'

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