Meet the MIC: Chiko Mutepfa
Chiko joined the NIHR Newcastle In Vitro Diagnostics Co-operative (NIHR Newcastle MIC) as a methodologist in April 2021. Chiko’s role at the MIC focuses on health economics and determining whether a new diagnostic will benefits patients, is affordable and provides value for money.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and why you joined the MIC?
I spent three years as a research assistant at the Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. My position was part of a whole scheme of trying to bring more research within community health care practice. I was trying to assess whether the care that was being given was effective. This included work in care homes and in clinics for patients with Diabetes and those with leg ulcers. Prior to that I worked as an administrator at a cancer centre and as a care assistant.
I realised I wanted to stay working in the NHS but also have a more challenging role that involved research. I was aware of the NIHR Clinical Research Network, but I didn’t know about the work of the MICs. I found this position on the NHS jobs.com website and it seemed perfect. It seemed to tick all the skills that I had been gaining over the years!
What does your work at the MIC involve and why is it important?
My work tries to determine whether a new test provides value for money and is cost effective enough for it to be adopted within the NHS.
I do cost consequence analyses or cost effectiveness analyses where I see how a new test compares with current tests and what the outcomes might be.
We also offer budget impact analysis. These studies assess affordability and examine the potential impact of purchasing the new diagnostic on the budget of the local or national healthcare provider.
A lot of the work I do is early economic modelling. This involves interviewing experts and carrying out reviews of the literature. I use data from the literature and interviews to build models and hypothesise whether a new diagnostic might have an impact. Later down the line further economic modelling can be done using clinical study data to assess whether the new test has the impact that we have predicted from the earlier models.
Diagnostic developers really want to have this information as it helps budget holders make decisions about purchasing their new diagnostic.
What do you enjoy the most about this work?
I really like the process of working on new projects. It starts with developing an understanding of a new disease area and then examining the care pathway, which captures the sequence of interactions a patient takes in a healthcare system when they are suspected of having that condition. From this work I produce a model and predict where the new diagnostic might fit and how it might be potentially used.
I also really like the variety of work that we do and learning about different disease areas. My first project was a quick review of the care pathway for bronchiectasis, a long-term lung condition. For one of my current projects, I am interviewing staff and patients to get an understanding of diagnosing a fungal disease called invasive candidiasis in the Intensive Care Unit. I have also helped to evaluate new diagnostics for cardiovascular disease, prostate cancer and stroke. There are few upcoming projects too which I can’t wait to get into!
What have been the challenges with the work?
I don’t think I’ve had any so far! I am the only health economist within the MIC team but I have support from health economists within the Population Health Science Institute at Newcastle University. I have monthly meetings with them and one of their senior health economists. We work on projects together and have delivered some teaching sessions. I thought maybe I’d have problems with planning and organising my workload, but everything seems to be working out according to plan. So far, so good!
What do you think are the key skills of a methodologist?
Critical thinking skills, transferable skills and some quantitative or qualitative analysis skills are useful. But I think mostly an interest and passion in research! If you have an interest in developing methods and improving methods in research, then this is the career for you!
Do you have any advice for researchers who are interested in becoming methodologists and working for organisations like the MIC?
You can be a methodologist from any background. If you think there are areas that you don’t have experience in, you shouldn’t worry because there are opportunities for learning and development within the MICs. For example, I have been on training courses for conducting diagnostic accuracy studies and using R, a computer programming language.
Sometimes it isn’t clear from the job title if it is a post for a methodologist so I would recommend reading the full job description. If you see a job advert of interest, just go for it as long as you have those transferable skills and a passion for research!
What are the three take home messages you would like the public to know from the work of the MIC?
The public should be assured that we’re looking after their interests! Health economics studies look at whether a new test will be cost effective for the NHS to adopt, and we have the public’s money in mind when we look at these tests.
The public can also be confident that we provide impartial objective advice to innovators.
We can also signpost innovators and the public to our networks if we can’t assist them.
Why do you think patient and public involvement and engagement (PPIE) is important in research?
I think the public are very insightful because they think of things that researchers might not have thought of. This can help researchers overcome some hurdles that they might encounter. For example, the public might read a researchers’ study protocol in a different way which could help the researchers receive ethical approval for their projects. I recently discussed a project with our insight panel for patients, public and carers and they helped me think through ways we could improve our recruitment of patients to a study. You might not realise until you have it but getting that insight is very valuable!
Outside of work, what are you looking forward to during the next few months?
I’m going on holiday to Cyprus in the next few weeks. I’m looking forward to some relaxation, restoration and maybe visiting some historical sites!
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