Bright balloons for better treatment

Bright balloons for better treatment

Dies Natalis Master's Thesis Prize Winner: Esmée Vaes

07-03-2024 · Interview

“Care for people with multiple diseases can be quite a challenge. Doctors mostly have just a few minutes for every patient”, says Esmée Vaes, recent graduate of the master’s Physician – Clinical Investigator and junior researcher at the department of Family Medicine. Finding ways to improve diagnostics in general practice is in the centre of her daily research. That’s also the reason why she swaps her office for a GP’s practice once a week, where she treats patients in consultation with the GP. “There I see with my own eyes which obstacles patients stumble across, and for which groups adequate care is especially difficult to have.”

Patients with multiple chronic diseases are an example of such a group, in this country often suffering from a combination of heart failure and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), a lung disease. “It leads to severe breath difficulties, cough and tiredness. And often patients have difficulties with activities of daily living, like to get dressed in the morning or do groceries”, Vaes explains. “These patients need much of the GP’s time, as they get treated by different specialists, all with different expertise’s and tasks. Because beside the diagnosis, it’s important to hear from patients what impact the diseases have on them, and explain what they can do themselves to deal better with it.”

For the next generation

This question kept Vaes busy towards the end of her master’s, she even devoted her thesis to it. “After researching for a while, I came across a project with the Assessment of Burden of Chronic Conditions Tool (ABCC) (Ziektelastmeter, more info in the box). A very handy tool that however was never used for patients with more than one chronic disease. And I thought: then I will join the project and try to do that.” All she needed for her part of the work were 70 participants. She asked patient organisations and hospitals, but finding enough participants in just a few months was extremely difficult. “The clock was ticking, but I wasn't making any progress. I was worried about whether I would be able to hand in the thesis on time." Vaes also doubted herself. Would she be able to do it? "I wanted to speak to each participant personally and explain everything.” Many unfortunately weren’t suitable, others were too weak to participate. But one woman dearly wanted to participate. “She said: ’I'm not doing this for myself, but for the next generation.’ That was touching."

Developing further

In the end, Vaes handed in a thesis that was “okay” in her opinion, “a pass, but nothing special.” After all, she couldn’t find enough participants for her study, so that a PhD student had to take over from her after her deadline had passed. “Of course I was disappointed that I couldn’t finish the study, first and foremost in myself”. Still, and to her surprise, her thesis not only was awarded a cum laude, but also the Dies Natalis Thesis Award, a prize for the best theses of the year. "I thought I'd pass, but an award?", she grins.

Thesis prizes

Every year during the Foundation Day celebrations, prizes are awarded to students who wrote the best bachelor’s and master’s theses. They receive a certificate and a cash prize of 500 euros. Observant interviewed eight of them. 

The Ziektelastmeter

Based on a list of questions that patients fill in, the Ziektelastmeter, a colourful diagram with balloons on a green meadow is automatically generated. Each of the balloons stands for a health domain, like ‘movement’ or ‘smoking’. The lower the balloon hangs, the more heavy is the burden on that domain for the patient. This indication is supported by a colour scheme (green, yellow and red). The graph gives patients an overview of their burden of disease, and helps them to better understand what they could change in their daily behaviour to help them deal with their diseases.  

Author: Simon Wirtz

Illustration: Simone Golob

Categories: Science
Tags: master thesis prize, Dies Natalis 2024, Esmée Vaes, medicine, GP

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