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Research Department of Primary Care and Population Health Blog



What’s new at PCPH about reproductive health: the women-health professional communication and risk awareness of combined hormonal contraceptives project

By Nathan Davies, on 28 February 2017

IMG_2344In this post Paula Gomes Alves who has recently joined PCPH as a research associate working with Fiona Stevenson, discusses their European Medicines Agency funded project which is looking into how women and health professionals communicate about the risks of oral contraceptives.

In this international project, we will have the opportunity to gain a greater insight into what women know about the health risks of combined hormonal contraceptives and which information sources  they use to learn about these risks. We will also study this topic from the perspective of health professionals, so that we can learn about how these two groups communicate regarding the use of oral contraceptives and their risks to health.

Our project will follow a mixed-methods approach, including semi-structured interviews and a web-survey. The interviews and the survey will be conducted with women and health professionals, to gain both perspectives. We will also recruit in several European countries simultaneously, which will allow us to explore this topic in a multicultural context.

What attracted me to this project?

As a woman in her mid-thirties, I have already been involved in many informal discussions with friends and family members about contraceptives, in particular, birth control pills. Some say that “all women put on a lot of weight when they take it”, whilst others advise that “no women should ever read the pill information leaflet, or they might withdraw from taking it for being so dangerous”.

Although these are examples drawn from my personal experience, I wonder whether they reflect the beliefs, attitudes and perceptions that most women have about oral contraceptives?? From the perspective of a researcher, it is also interesting to investigate where and how do woman form their knowledge about the birth control pill and to what extent that knowledge influences their contraceptive choices. For instance, a few years ago, and in another different population, I was part of a research project in which we found that the false beliefs that people hold about opioid substitution treatment (for instance, methadone) are likely to affect the outcome of that treatment. This means that medications may not work as expected if patients are misinformed about how they work and the benefits/risk that they involve.

Where are we now and what will be our next steps?

Our project is evolving at a fast pace. After being launched in October 2016, and following the approval of its final protocol by the European Medicines Agency, our empirical work began in January 2017 with my research appointment. We submitted our application for the UCL Research Ethics Committee in late January and we are now waiting for its outcome. We were fortunate to have informal discussions with Ana Gubijev and Julia Bailey throughout this process – so yes, I can confirm that in case of doubt, discussing your thoughts and learning from your colleagues’ previous experiences is definitely the way to go if you want to be successful.

In the meantime, we are starting a narrative review to explore the existing literature about our topic. Contacts with potential participating research sites, for recruitment purposes, will also be made shortly.

How does our project contribute to (a better) reproductive health?

I recently read on the United Nations Population Fund’s website  that “to maintain one’s sexual and reproductive health, people need access to accurate information and the safe, effective, affordable and acceptable contraception method of their choice”. However, as a researcher and, most importantly, as a woman, I do not know to what extent this health recommendation is translated into practice. But hopefully, our project will be a step forward in this direction.

At the end of our project, we expect to have a better understanding of health communication, by revealing the perspectives and voices of health professionals and women about the use of combined hormonal contraceptives. Most importantly, we will listen to women/health professional’s personal and professional experiences, which hopefully will provide a more realistic account on what people know about pills and which type of information they are provided with before making any decision about their reproductive health.

In a nutshell, by sharing my experience so far and what we are going to do in this project, we trust that other people may become as excited and curious about this topic as we. And don’t worry – we will keep you posted on further developments!

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