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East Midlands Chamber News

Nottingham student's prize for tinnitus research

Research into the debilitating hearing condition tinnitus by a University of Nottingham PhD student has been recognised with a prestigious award from a national charity.

Kathryn Fackrell’s research paper on a study which evaluated online resources used by GPs to treat patients with tinnitus has won the Marie and Jack Shapiro prize by the British Tinnitus Association.

Kathryn picked up the prize at the charity’s 20th annual conference held in London yesterday (24/9).

The Marie and Jack Shapiro prize is given for the published research paper by a UK-based author that is most likely to result in improved treatment or public awareness of tinnitus. An annual award, it is intended to encourage researchers, public communicators and others to develop an interest in tinnitus and to recognise their efforts.

Kathryn’s winning publication, which was among 17 shortlisted papers judged by the BTA’s Professional Advisers Committee, looked at the ten main websites used by GPs to get information on clinical practice and found that the two best websites for assessing or managing tinnitus — Map of Medicine and the British Tinnitus Association (BTA) — were rarely used by family doctors, with only two per cent logging on to access their pages.

The research, which involved a team of experts from The University of Nottingham, Nottingham Trent University and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Nottingham Hearing Biomedical Research Unit, was published in 2012 in the journal BMC Medical Informatics and Decision-Making.

Professor Deborah Hall, Director of the NIHR Nottingham Hearing Biomedical Research Unit, said: “We are delighted to receive such national recognition for the clinical value of our research. We hope that our findings help to raise the profile of Map of Medicine and The British Tinnitus Association websites because they both provide high quality information, despite them being rarely used by GPs to advise patients on management options.”

David Stockdale, CEO of the British Tinnitus Association, said: “There were many very interesting and highly commendable research papers in the running this year and we are very grateful to all those to have undertaken research into tinnitus with the aim of developing existing knowledge and understanding about the causes of the condition.”

Tinnitus, a condition in which patients hear a persistent ringing, hissing or buzzing sound in their ears, affects around 10 per cent of the population and is often associated with other illnesses including stress, anxiety, insomnia, depression and communication difficulties.

Patients usually access NHS services such as neurotology or audiological rehabilitation through their GPs. However, a recent national survey of GPs by the research team highlighted that many feel their knowledge of tinnitus is limited and they need better guidelines on how to effectively assess, diagnose and refer their patients.

In addition, patients with hearing problems expressed concern of poor GP awareness of the condition and other healthcare professionals such as audiologists highlighted inappropriate referrals received from GPs.

As tinnitus is seen to affect a relatively low number of patients at GP surgeries, many doctors are turning to the internet for information on the condition rather than spending resource on specialist training.

The research analysed the content of 10 of the sites most commonly used by GPs — which included commercial, charity and Government-run websites — and used a specialist healthcare information score called DISCERN to rate the quality of the information they offered and their usability.

The study found that the Map of Medicine, ranked highest overall for quality and reliability despite achieving a low score for information on the management of tinnitus. Conversely, the BTA site, which was ranked in second place, had one of the highest scores on information on management choices.

The results indicate that GPs would have to visit at least two websites to gather all the information recommended by the Department of Health for good practice in tinnitus care, which is unlikely to happen in a busy practice.

The research will offer valuable information for websites providing information on tinnitus on how they can improve their service and Action on Hearing Loss has gathered the preliminary findings to be incorporated into a forthcoming overhaul of its website.

Support and funding for the research came from Action on Hearing Loss and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Unit.