Background: The importance of consumer involvement in health care is widely recognised. Consumers can be involved in developing healthcare policy and research, clinical practice guidelines and patient information material, through consultations to elicit their views or through collaborative processes. Consultations can be single events, or repeated events, large or small scale. They can involve individuals or groups of consumers to allow debate; the groups may be convened especially for the consultation or be established consumer organisations. They can be organised in different forums and through different media. We anticipated finding few comparative evaluations that reliably evaluated the effects of consumer involvement.
Objectives: To assess the effects of consumer involvement and compare different methods of involvement in developing healthcare policy and research, clinical practice guidelines, and patient information material.
Search strategy: We searched: the Cochrane Consumers and Communication Review Group's Specialised Register (4 May 2006); the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library, Issue 1 2006), MEDLINE (1966 to January Week 2 2006); EMBASE (1980 to Week 03 2006); CINAHL (1982 to December Week 2 2005), PsycINFO (1806 to January Week 3 2006); Sociological Abstracts (1952 to 24 January 2006); and SIGLE (System for Information on Grey Literature in Europe) (1980 to 2003/1). We scanned reference lists from relevant articles and contacted authors.
Selection criteria: Randomised and quasi-randomised trials, interrupted time series analyses, and controlled before-after studies assessing methods for involving consumers in developing healthcare policy and research, clinical practice guidelines or patient information material. The outcome measures were: participation or response rates of consumers; consumer views elicited; consumer influence on decisions, healthcare outcomes or resource utilisation; consumers' or professionals' satisfaction with the involvement process or resulting products; impact on the participating consumers; costs.
Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently selected trials for inclusion, assessed their quality and extracted data. We contacted study authors for clarification and to seek missing data. We presented results in a narrative summary and pooled data as appropriate.
Main results: Five randomised controlled trials of moderate or low methodological quality involving 1031 participants were included. There is moderate quality evidence that involving consumers in the development of patient information material results in material that is more relevant, readable and understandable to patients, without affecting their anxiety. This 'consumer-informed' material can also improve patients' knowledge. There is low quality evidence that using consumer interviewers instead of staff interviewers in satisfaction surveys can have a small influence on the survey results. There is very low quality evidence of telephone discussions and face-to-face group meetings engaging consumers better than mailed surveys in order to set priorities for community health goals, and resulting in different priorities being set for these goals.
Authors' conclusions: There is little evidence from comparative studies of the effects of consumer involvement in healthcare decisions at the population level. The studies included in this review demonstrate that randomised controlled trials are feasible for providing evidence about the effects of consulting consumers to inform these decisions.