Oliver, Sandy, Milne, Ruairidh, Bradburn, Jane, Buchanan, Phyll, Kerridge, Lynn, Walley, Tom and Gabbay, John
Involving consumers in a needs-led research programme: a pilot project
Health Expectations, 4, (1), . (doi:10.1111/j.1369-7625.2001.00113.x).
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Objectives To describe the methods used for involving consumers in a needs-led health research programme, and to discuss facilitators, barriers and goals.
Design In a short action research pilot study, we involved consumers in all stages of the Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme: identifying and prioritizing research topics; commissioning and reporting research; and communicating openly about the programme. We drew on the experience of campaigning, self-help and patients' representative groups, national charities, health information services, consumer researchers and journalists for various tasks. We explored consumer literature as a potential source for research questions, and as a route for disseminating research findings. These innovations were complemented by training, one-to-one support and discussion. A reflective approach included interviews with consumers, co-ordinating staff, external observers and other programme contributors, document analysis and multidisciplinary discussion (including consumers) amongst programme contributors.
Results When seeking research topics, face-to-face discussion with a consumer group was more productive than scanning consumer research reports or contacting consumer health information services. Consumers were willing and able to play active roles as panel members in refining and prioritizing topics, and in commenting on research plans and reports. Training programmes for consumer involvement in service planning were readily adapted for a research programme. Challenges to be overcome were cultural divides, language barriers and a need for skill development amongst consumers and others. Involving consumers highlighted a need for support and training for all contributors to the programme.
Conclusions Consumers made unique contributions to the HTA Programme. Their involvement exposed processes which needed further thought and development. Consumer involvement benefited from the National Co-ordinating Centre for Health Technology Assessment (NCCHTA) staff being comfortable with innovation, participative development and team learning. Neither recruitment nor research capacity were insurmountable challenges, but ongoing effort is required if consumer involvement is to be sustained.
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