Background: Patients are increasingly seen as active partners in healthcare. While patient involvement in individual clinical decisions has been extensively studied, no trial has assessed how patients can effectively be involved in collective healthcare decisions affecting the population. The goal of this study was to test the impact of involving patients in setting healthcare improvement priorities for chronic care at the community level.
Design: Cluster randomized controlled trial. Local communities were randomized in intervention (priority setting with patient involvement) and control sites (no patient involvement).
Setting: Communities in a canadian region were required to set priorities for improving chronic disease management in primary care, from a list of 37 validated quality indicators.
Intervention: Patients were consulted in writing, before participating in face-to-face deliberation with professionals.
Control: Professionals established priorities among themselves, without patient involvement.
Participants: A total of 172 individuals from six communities participated in the study, including 83 chronic disease patients, and 89 health professionals.
Outcomes: The primary outcome was the level of agreement between patients' and professionals' priorities. Secondary outcomes included professionals' intention to use the selected quality indicators, and the costs of patient involvement.
Results: Priorities established with patients were more aligned with core generic components of the Medical Home and Chronic Care Model, including: access to primary care, self-care support, patient participation in clinical decisions, and partnership with community organizations (p < 0.01). Priorities established by professionals alone placed more emphasis on the technical quality of single disease management. The involvement intervention fostered mutual influence between patients and professionals, which resulted in a 41% increase in agreement on common priorities (95%CI: +12% to +58%, p < 0.01). Professionals' intention to use the selected quality indicators was similar in intervention and control sites. Patient involvement increased the costs of the prioritization process by 17%, and required 10% more time to reach consensus on common priorities.
Conclusions: Patient involvement can change priorities driving healthcare improvement at the population level. Future research should test the generalizability of these findings to other contexts, and assess its impact on patient care.
Trial registration: The Netherlands National Trial Register #NTR2496.