Missed opportunities for impact in patient and carer involvement: A mixed methods case study of research priority setting
Snow R., Crocker JC., Crowe S.
© 2015 Snow et al. Background Patients and carers are increasingly involved in deciding on topics for medical research. However, so far, it has been difficult to gain an accurate picture of the impact of such involvement because of poor reporting and evaluation in published studies to date. This study aimed to explore how a partnership of patients, carers, healthcare professionals and organisations identified questions for future research and why patients and carers had a limited impact on this process. Methods In the first stage of the partnership process, relevant service users and providers (including patients, carers, healthcare professionals and voluntary organisations) were invited to submit suggested research questions about the treatment of type 1 diabetes, via a national online and paper survey. The partnership followed formal protocols that defined a researchable question. This meant that many respondents’ suggested research questions were rejected at the start of the process. We analysed survey submissions to find out which groups of respondents were most likely to have their suggestions rejected and what these suggestions were about. Results Five hundred eighty-three respondents submitted 1143 suggested research questions, of which 249 (21.8 %) were rejected at the first stage. Respondents with lived experience of this long-term condition (patients and carers) were more likely than those without lived experience to submit a research question that would be rejected (35.6 vs. 16.5 %; p < 0.0005). Among the rejected questions submitted by patients and carers, there were several key themes: questions about cure, cause and prevention, understanding the disease, healthcare policy and economics. Conclusions In this case study, early decisions about what constituted a researchable question restricted patients’ and carers’ contributions to priority setting. When discussions about a project’s remit take place before service users are involved, researchers risk distorting the potential impact of involvement. Impact assessments should consider not only the differences patients and carers make to research but also the differences they could have made in the absence of systemic barriers. We recommend that initiatives aimed at involving patients and carers in identifying research questions involve them as early as possible, including in decisions about how and why suggested research questions are selected or rejected.