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Professor Carl May PhD BScEcon

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Professor Carl May is a Visiting Professor of Healthcare Innovation within Health Sciences at the University of Southampton.

Our academics are specialists in many varied research areas; working together will bring new opportunities to improve health care


Carl May is a Visiting Professor of Healthcare Innovation and leads the Complexity, Patient Experience, and Organizational Behaviour research programme in NIHR CLAHRC Wessex. Carl is a medical sociologist with additional interests in implementation science and health services research. His research is framed by two basic questions:

Beginning with studies of professional-patient interaction, knowledge and practice, his work has shifted over time to explore help-seeking and referral behaviours and the translation of evidence into practice in the management of long-term and life-limiting conditions; and in parallel, the development and implementation of innovations in health technology and organization. It has led to the development of a novel conceptual model of individual and organizational behaviour (Normalization Process Theory, with Dr Tracy Finch) which facilitates understanding of the mechanisms through which practices of care and self-care become embedded in their social contexts. Extending this work in collaboration with Prof Victor Montori (Mayo Clinic, US) and Prof Frances Mair (Glasgow University, Scotland) led first to the development of a novel methodology for clinical practice (Minimally Disruptive Medicine), and then to the development of a robust theoretical model of patient behaviour (Burden of Treatment Theory) that facilitates understanding of help-seeking and service utilization, and takes into account the wider socio-economic environment and social or relational networks in which the patient is set.

Carl is an experienced supervisor of PhD and MD students and postdoctoral fellows, and was Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty from its inauguration in 2010 to 2013. He is a former ESRC Research Fellow (2004-2009) and NIHR Senior Investigator (2009-2012) and was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2008. Carl has held honorary appointments at Kansas University Medical Centre (1996) and the Hunter Institute (2003). He is currently an Honorary Professorial Research Fellow in General Practice at the University of Melbourne, Australia (since 2008), and an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Human and Social Development, University of Victoria, Canada (since 2007).


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Research interests

Research that explores the changing dynamics of professional-patient interaction in terminal care, acute illness and recovery, and chronic disease management. Developing Minimally Disruptive Healthcare in the face of increasingly complex and fragmented health services, and the increasing transfer of burdens of treatment across the boundaries between home and health services.

Research that helps us understand socio-technical change in healthcare, and particularly innovation and development around clinical interventions in patient care. Developing explanatory models - especially Normalization Process Theory - that help us understand how health care interventions, technologies, and practices are implemented, embedded, and integrated in everyday life. You can find out more about Normalization Process Theory at

Research group

Complex Healthcare Processes

Affiliate research group

Active Living and Rehabilitation

Research project(s)

The work, workforce, technology and organisational implications of 111

Examining the everyday work and practice, the experience and skills of the workforce, the technologies brought into use, and organizational environment, required to deliver the national ‘111’ single point of access service.

Supporting family caregivers in the transition between hospital and their relative’s preferred place for end of life care

This study is an implementation study of best evidence, from previously conducted studies including reviews of randomised controlled trials and meta-analyses, about supporting family caregivers of individuals at the end of life.

NIHR Wessex Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (Wessex CLAHRC) - Theme 6: Complexity, Patient Experience, Organizational Behaviour

Wessex CLAHRC is partnership of providers, commissioners, patients, public, clinicians and researchers. It aims to put into practice what we learn from undertaking research. The focus is on improving the health of the people of Wessex and the quality and cost-effectiveness of health care. Through increasing engagement of stakeholders, Wessex CLAHRC aims to bring about a stepped change in integration of pathways of care for people with long-term conditions and reducing hospital admissions through more appropriate use of health care. The complexity theme focuses on improving the experience of patients, families and professionals by looking at ways of minimising complexity and maximising improvement in experience of for those affected by long term, life-limiting conditions.

A phase I-II feasibility trial of Cancer Carer Medicines Management (CCMM): an educational intervention for carer management of pain medication in cancer patients at end of life.

A study of sense-making strategies and help-seeking behaviours associated with the use and provision of urgent care services

Urgent care reform has led to the development of multiple services (e.g. out-of-hours, walk-in centres, NHS 111) designed to improve access and manage rising service demand. Policy has sought to influence patient behaviour and choice of service in this complex urgent care landscape. Guiding patients to ‘get the right advice in the right place, first time', reducing unnecessary emergency department attendances by providing more responsive urgent care services, and providing better support for people to self-care has increasingly been the focus of national and local health policy. However, effective service provision requires a much deeper understanding of the factors that influence patients’ help-seeking and choices.


The DIPSS (Integrating Digital Interventions into Patient Self-Management Support) project has received funding of £2 million from the NIHR to examine patient digital self-management with healthcare professional support in primary care. Our aim is to develop digital behaviour change interventions for asthma and hypertension self-management, which will be examined in feasibility studies and full RCT (hypertension only). Issues surrounding the feasibility, acceptability, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of digital intervention delivery will be explored with patients and healthcare professionals for each condition.


This is a European collaboration towards faster and more effective implementation of eHealth interventions. The project’s raison d’être is founded on the notion that implementation of new services and technologies is time-consuming and costly – and often fails completely – not least in the healthcare domain. Solidly based in research, and in a collaboration spanning from all corners of Europe to Australia, the project will construct its answer to this widespread problem.

Improving Fundamental Care on Hospital Wards

This is a feasibility study for an intervention aiming to make fundamental care in acute hospitals more person-centred. It pairs the Creating Learning Environments for Compassionate Care (CLECC) intervention with an adapted, co-produced version of the ‘TellUs’ card to support personalisation of fundamental care in hospital.

Understanding treatment burden and enhancing capacity for older people with chronic kidney disease

This study is exploring people’s experience of managing chronic kidney disease (CKD) - a common long-term condition affecting about a third of older people in the UK.

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Book Chapters



Working Papers

Masterclasses in research methods and epistemology
Professor Carl May
Health Sciences, Student Office, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton. SO17 1BJ
Professor Carl May's personal home page
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