Health Services Research & Development

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2017 HSR&D/QUERI National Conference Abstract

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1047 — What Motivates Veterans to Participate in Research? Results From a National Study Involving Focus Groups

Lead/Presenter: Alyson Littman, COIN - Seattle/Denver
All Authors: Littman AJ (Seattle/Denver COIN and Seattle Epidemiologic Research and Information Center, VA Puget Sound) True JG (South Central Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center Southeast Lousiana Veterans Health Care System) Ashmore E (Seattle Epidemiologic Research and Information Center, VA Puget Sound) Wellens T (Gnosis Research, Seattle WA) Smith NL (Seattle Epidemiologic Research and Information Center, VA Puget Sound)

Objectives:
Failure to recruit hard-to-reach groups can result in non-representative samples and biased exposure-disease relationships. For research in military veterans, there is concern about under-representation of those who are healthy, those not receiving benefits from VA, and those with mental health issues. The aim of this study was to understand the factors that motivate Veterans to participate in health-related research.

Methods:
We held 10 focus groups in 5 cities throughout the US in 2015. Inclusion criteria included serving in the Armed Forces between 2001-2012, having deployed in support of OIF/OEF, and no longer serving on active duty. Data were analyzed using template analysis.

Results:
A total of 89 Veterans (including 26 women) participated in the 10 focus groups. For many, both sufficient compensation and a sense that the study would help other Veterans were critical. Additionally, it was also important that participation be convenient (i.e., in terms of time commitment and location). Factors that negatively impacted likelihood of participation included the appearance that the study was not legitimate (a "scam"), concerns about data security, that the study would negatively affect VA benefits, study-associated risks, and that the study was not a good fit ("I don't have PTSD."). Veterans with VA benefits expressed concern that study findings might impact their VA disability rating. Participants expressed negative views of the use of vague or technical terms to describe study participation (e.g., "randomly-selected," "medical tests," "non-invasive"). Veterans appreciated the idea of having study findings shared with them and said this could motivate them to participate in future studies.

Implications:
Veterans are highly motivated to help others; efforts to engage Veterans in research should clearly communicate how their participation could benefit others, even when those benefits may be distal. Establishing trust is essential -- trust is engendered by being specific about the study purpose and procedures, and having professional staff well-trained to answer questions. Showing respect is also important; respect can be demonstrated by ensuring potential participants don't feel as though they are "just a number," compensating participants adequately, and making the effort to disseminate findings back to participants.

Impacts:
Information from this study can assist researchers in recruiting and retaining hard-to-reach participants.