Research into how parents cope with sick children in top three BMJ papers in last 20 years

16 Jul 2015 12:50:03.607
PA 107/15

Research by an academic at The University of Nottingham has been placed in the top three most influential papers to be published by The British Medical Journal (BMJ) in the last 20 years.

The paper, What Worries Parents When their Pre-School Children are Acutely Ill and Why: A Qualitative Study, written by Joe Kai, Clinical Professor and Head of Primary Care in the University’s School of Medicine and a practising GP in Derby, was placed third out of 20 outstanding articles which have had a lasting impact.

Professor Kai said: “I’m thrilled this research and its impact have been recognised by The BMJ in this way. It’s really testament to the altruism of the busy parents who took part, the great importance of doing research where most health care takes place — in primary care — and how qualitative insights can improve health care.”

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When it first appeared in 1996, the paper was one of the first pieces of qualitative research that The BMJ had published — a method of research which at the time was unusual and unorthodox in medicine but has since become much more the mainstream. 

To mark the 20th anniversary of The BMJ’s website, the journal asked 20 UK, international readers, authors, friends, and former colleagues to name an outstanding article published since the mid-90s.

Professor Kai’s paper was selected by Dr Iona Heath, former president of the Royal College of General Practitioners and former columnist for The BMJ.

Dr Heath said: “This paper and a linked one ((BMJ1996;313:987) revealed the profound sense of responsibility that parents felt for their children and how deep seated their fears are of serious and even life threatening illness. From the day I read these papers, I understood that I needed to help the parent to leave the consultation with a greater sense of competence and control. These consultations became easier and the decision whether or not to prescribe antibiotics became much less central and much less contested.”

The research has since served as a best example of how to qualitative research in medical care and what it can reveal.

It has become the standard evidence in guidance and teaching to GPs, nurses, paediatricians and A&E teams about understanding how tough dealing with an ill child can often be for parents, explaining ‘where parents are coming from’, and how to communicate better with and empower parents.

The research is still being used right now to develop new intervention tools, for example to reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescribing for common illness in children, in the face of the crisis of growing antimicrobial resistance to antibiotics in modern healthcare.

Story credits

 More information is available from Professor Joe Kai in the School of Medicine, University of Nottingham on +44 (0)115 846 6901,; or Emma Thorne, Media Relations Manager in the Communications Office at The University of Nottingham, on +44 (0)115 951 5793, 

Emma Thorne Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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