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Seeing the person behind the patient: enhancing the care of older people using a biographical approach

Authors

  • Amanda Clarke MA, PhD, RGN,

    1. Lecturer in Nursing, Department of Community, Ageing, Rehabilitation, Education and Research, School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK
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  • Elizabeth Jane Hanson BA, PhD, RGN,

    1. Senior Lecturer, University of Kalmar, Sweden, and Visiting Reader, Sheffield University, Sheffield, UK
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  • Helen Ross MA, RGN

    1. Lecturer in Nursing, Department of Community, Ageing, Rehabilitation, Education and Research, School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK
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Amanda Clarke, University of Sheffield, School of Nursing and Midwifery, CARER Department, Samuel Fox House, Northern General Hospital, Herries Road, Sheffield, S5 7AU, UK (tel.: +44(0)114 226 6859; e-mail: a.e.clarke@sheffield.ac.uk).

Summary

• Recent policy statements have stressed the need for fundamental changes to the NHS, especially to the hospital care of older people. Person-centred care underpins such changes. If practitioners are to deliver person-centred care, then they need to learn more about the patient as an individual. One way that this might be achieved is through biographical approaches.

• This paper describes the findings of a developmental study undertaken over a 6-month period to investigate the introduction of a biographical approach to care on a unit in a NHS hospital. It concentrates on the views of the practitioners who used the approach.

• The study aimed to explore whether a biographical approach – in the form of storytelling – might be used to encourage person-centred practice.

• Using a practice development approach, the study explored the views of older people, their family carers and practitioners regarding their participation in life story work.

• Initial data were collected by focus groups with staff from a nursing home who regularly used life stories as a basis for care planning. Further data were collected through focus groups, semistructured interviews and observation – undertaken before and after the introduction of life story work – with older people, family carers and practitioners.

• Findings revealed that life stories helped practitioners to see patients as people, to understand individuals more fully and to form closer relationships with their families. Support workers also said how much they enjoyed using the approach to inform their care.

• Further longitudinal research is required to investigate biographical approaches more fully and to work more closely with practitioners to explore how biographical approaches can be undertaken as part of standard practice and be integrated into the culture and management of care.

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