Shared Resource: Behavioral Health & Survey Research Core

Most of the Duke Cancer Institute’s shared resources offer a glimpse into a smaller world, whether by allowing researchers to better understand the shape of organic compounds, isolate and sort particular cells of interest, or track the growth of tumors in animal models. The Behavioral Health and Survey Research Core (BHSRC) is a developing shared resource that offers assistance within a larger, less predictable area: human communication and behavior.

Led by Kathryn Pollak, PhD, and Laura Fish, PhD, the BHSRC provides services in three areas: survey development, needs assessment and qualitative data analysis, and developing patient education materials.

“The services the BHSRC provides--developing high quality surveys, performing interviews and obtaining qualitative data, and designing patient-education materials--are an integral part of cancer research,” said BHSRC Assistant Director Laura Fish. “Given the many clients the BHSRC has already served since its inception, there clearly is a need for this type of support among DCI investigators.”

Formed in January 2015, the BHSRC is the DCI’s newest developing shared resource, but its staff do not lack for experience. Together Pollak and Fish have nearly four decades of combined experience in doctor-patient communication, survey design, and qualitative research methods. Katherine Zeph has 20 years of graphic design experience, which she applies to patient materials.

Each of the three areas of the BHSRC is rooted in the latest state-of-the-science and evidence-based. To aid in survey development, for example, Fish is compiling a database of tested, valid measures of constructs such as patient quality of life, diet, exercise, depression, and other factors.

“Constructing a survey is a lot more than just asking a list questions,” Fish said. “How you ask the question is very important. The ideal survey is as precise and calibrated as any lab instrument might be.”

Precise construction also defines the development of the resource’s patient education materials, from fine-tuning the language of a brochure so that it is both scientifically accurate and easily understood by a mass audience, to designing an appealing, appropriate layout and color scheme, to testing and refining the product with an appropriate audience.

Sundhar Ramalingam, MD, a hematology-oncology fellow, benefited first-hand from this work. His current research project, which will appear in a coming issue of the journal Oncology, examines the role that physical activity and inactivity plays in the role of prostate cancer development.

Ramalingam worked with the BHSRC to share his research to patients with prostate cancer patients. Together, Ramalingam, Fish and Zeph, along with Pollak and co-authors Dr. Mike Harrison and Leah Zullig, developed a single-page, two-color brochure which will be included in the Oncology article so that clinicians can share it with patients; the DCI may also eventually make this brochure available to its clinic patients well.

“Laura and Katherine were extremely helpful. We probably went through at least 15 revisions to reach the appropriate literacy level, make sure every word was in place, and add color and make sure every word was in place,” Ramalingham said. “They were amazingly quick and efficient throughout the whole process.” In fact, the journal editor complimented Ramalingham on the professional product he submitted.

As a developing shared resource, the BHSRC is currently not charging for services, though it is designing a fee structure for use in 2016. Fish encourages investigators interested in the BHSRC’s services to contact her by phone or email, or to visit the BHSRC’s website.

photo: Laura Fish, PhD, assistant director, and Katherine Zeph, project manager and graphic designer