Context: Patients as educators (teaching intimate physical examination) first appeared in the 1960s. Since then, rationales for the active involvement of patients as educators have been well articulated. There is great potential to promote the learning of patient-centred practice, interprofessional collaboration, community involvement, shared decision making and how to support self-care.
Methods: We reviewed and summarised the literature on active patient involvement in health professional education.
Results: A synthesis of the literature reveals increasing diversity in the ways in which patients are involved in education, but also the movement's weaknesses. Most initiatives are 'one-off' events and are reported as basic descriptions. There is little rigorous research or theory of practice or investigation of behavioural outcomes. The literature is scattered and uses terms (such as 'patient'!) that are contentious and confusing.
Conclusions: We propose future directions for research and development, including a taxonomy to facilitate dialogue, an outline of a research strategy and reference to a comprehensive bibliography covering all health and human services.