The use of patients' stories by self-help groups: A survey of voluntary organizations in the UK on the register of the College of Health
Objective: First-hand accounts of illness experience are believed to provide important insights for other patients and their carers. We report the results of a survey that explored how patients' stories are being collected and used by self-help and voluntary groups. Methods: The annual College of Health survey contacts 2 458 addresses, which includes many self-help groups and voluntary associations. A brief questionnaire for the self-help groups on the register was attached to the summer 1999 survey on behalf of the DIPEx (database of individual patient experience) project. Results: DIPEx received replies from 309 organizations representing a wide range of interests and conditions. These indicated that 202 (65%) of the groups currently use patients' stories in various ways. A further 59 (19%) of the groups reported that although they are not currently using them, they would like to in the future. Organizations that use patients' stories were invited to describe how they use them and provide examples, if applicable. Content analysis of the free text descriptions revealed 22 distinct uses among the 202 organizations using patient stories. The most frequent uses are the inclusion of patient stories in interviews or articles for the group newsletter (74 or 37%) and the use of stories for inclusion in newspaper articles or media broadcasts (31 or 15%). Some form of database of patients' stories was maintained by 23 groups (12%). Conclusions: These findings suggest that patients' stories are widely collected and used to support a wide range of the recognized functions of self-help and voluntary groups. This is encouraging to the DIPEx project's efforts to collect and analyse accounts of illness experience, which will be presented with evidence-based information about the effects of treatments.