Comparing three approaches for involving patients in research prioritization: a qualitative study of participant experiences

Res Involv Engagem. 2020 May 1;6:18. doi: 10.1186/s40900-020-00196-4. eCollection 2020.


Background: By participating in priority-setting activities in research, patients and members of the public help ensure that important questions are incorporated into future research agendas. Surveys, focus groups, and online crowdsourcing are increasingly used to obtain input, yet little is known about how they compare for prioritizing research topics. To address this gap, the Study of Methods for Assessing Research Topic Elicitation and pRioritization (SMARTER) evaluated participant satisfaction with the engagement experience across three prioritization activities.

Methods: Respondents from Back pain Outcomes using Longitudinal Data (BOLD), a registry of patients 65 years and older with low back pain (LBP), were randomly assigned to one of three interactive prioritization activities: online crowd-voting, in-person focus groups using nominal group technique, and two rounds of a mailed survey (Delphi). To assess quality of experience, participants completed a brief survey; a subset were subsequently interviewed. We used descriptive statistics to characterize participants, and we analyzed responses to the evaluation using a mixed-methods approach, tabulating responses to Likert-scale questions and using thematic analysis of interviews to explore participant understanding of the activity and perceptions of experience.

Results: The crowd-voting activity had 38 participants, focus groups 39, and the Delphi survey 74. Women outnumbered men in the focus groups and Delphi survey; otherwise, demographics among groups were similar, with participants being predominantly white, non-Hispanic, and college educated. Activities generated similar lists of research priorities, including causes of LBP, improving physician-patient communication, and self-care strategies. The evaluation survey was completed by 123 participants. Of these, 31 across all activities were interviewed about motivations to participate, understanding of activity goals, logistics, clarity of instructions, and the role of patients in research. Focus group participants rated their experience highest, in both the evaluation and interviews.

Conclusion: Common methods for research prioritization yielded similar priorities but differing perceptions of experience. Such comparative studies are rare but important in understanding methods to involve patients and the public in research. Preferences for different methods may vary across stakeholder groups; this warrants future study.

Trial registration: NICHSR, HSRP20152274. Registered 19 February 2015.

Keywords: Crowd-voting; Delphi survey; Focus groups; Nominal group technique; Patient engagement; Patient involvement; Patient-centered outcomes research; Qualitative research; Research priorities.