Dr Conor Farrington works at the University of Cambridge, where he is exploring the attitudes of healthcare professionals towards new diabetes technology and their patients’ use of it. Patient access to new diabetes technology in part depends on doctors’ attitudes, but currently little is known about their views or influence regarding new diabetes technology. Dr Farrington is therefore working to generate a detailed account of attitudes towards new diabetes technology, including CGMs and artificial pancreas technology.
How did you get involved in type 1 research?
I joined the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine in 2013 with a general remit to undertake research on user experience of new medical technologies, with a particular focus on wearable technologies. It quickly emerged that artificial pancreas research with type 1 patients was one of the most exciting areas of medical wearables research currently being undertaken at Cambridge, and I was fortunate to quickly get involved in studies with leading researchers such as Helen Murphy and Roman Hovorka.
Has JDRF’s support made a difference to your research?
JDRF’s support has made a difference to my research by enabling me to begin exploring an important and insufficiently understood aspect of diabetes technology – i.e. clinician attitudes to new diabetes technologies. While my research to date has mostly focused on the technological experiences of people with diabetes, my new JDRF-funded research will focus on how the multiple professions involved in diabetes care – e.g. nurses, dietitians, physicians, and other specialties such as surgeons and midwives – think about new diabetes technologies such as insulin pumps, CGM, and (especially) artificial pancreas systems.
Very little is known about this topic at present, yet clinician attitudes likely exert significant influence on how people with diabetes are able to access, use appropriately, and benefit from new diabetes technologies. By allowing me to undertake a significant new research project with 60 clinicians working in six different diabetes clinics across England, JDRF funding will provide an important impetus to academic research in this important yet neglected field.
What keeps you motivated in your work as a scientist?
My diabetes research to date has involved frequent and often repeated contact with people with type 1 diabetes. This privileged access to people’s experiences, challenges, and achievements is a great source of motivation for diabetes research in general – i.e. research that offers the potential to improve people’s quality of life and reduce the burden of diabetes. But it also serves as a constant reminder that technology is not a neutral tool, and that a device or system that is a revelation for one person may be a burdensome obligation for another.
I have often been surprised by the range of technology experiences exhibited by people with diabetes, and by the ways in which these varied experiences may present challenges for rolling out new devices to mainstream care. At the same time, this experience reinforces my conviction that diabetes research must take account of psychosocial aspects of technology use in order to ensure maximal benefit for a range of different and highly individual people.
What is your hope for your research in the future?
In the medium term, I am looking forward to seeing how artificial pancreas systems may help to transform the experiences of people living with type 1 diabetes when such systems are rolled out in mainstream medical care. This will open up a whole new field of technology research in diabetes, as long-term real-world experiences are likely to differ significantly from even very long-term clinical trials in free living conditions. I hope that psychosocial research will play an increasingly important part in ensuring that healthcare systems and technological devices are designed to allow for individual variation between patients (and clinicians).
When not in the lab, how do you spend your free time?
I enjoy sailing and cricket, and often play for the Cambridge Institute of Public Health cricket team. I also enjoy travel and have just returned from a holiday to Greece and Macedonia.