Objectives: To characterise the literature on public involvement in health research published between 1995 and 2009.
Methods: Papers were identified from three systematic reviews, one narrative review and two bibliographies. The analysis identified journals where papers were published; countries of lead authors; types of public involved; health topic areas; and stages of research involving the public. Papers were also classified as to whether they were literature reviews or empirical studies; focused on participatory/action research; were qualitative, quantitative or mixed-method. The number of papers published per year was also examined.
Findings: Of the 683 papers identified, 297 were of USA origin and 223 were of UK origin. Of the 417 empirical papers: (i) participatory/action research approach was dominant, together with qualitative data collection methods; (ii) the stage of research the public was most involved was question identification; (iii) indigenous groups were most commonly involved; (iv) mental health was the most common health topic. Published studies peaked in 2006.
Conclusions: The present study identifies publication patterns in public involvement in health research and provides evidence to suggest that researchers increasingly are 'walking the walk' with respect to public involvement, with empirical studies consistently out-numbering literature reviews from 1998.
Keywords: action research; bibliometric study; consumer involvement; health research; participatory research; public involvement; service user participation.
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.