Hidden in plain sight? Identifying patient-authored publications

Res Involv Engagem. 2022 Apr 11;8(1):12. doi: 10.1186/s40900-022-00346-w.


Background: Patient advocates are increasingly authoring peer-reviewed publications that could enhance patient care and understanding of the lived experience. Although patient authorship may be seen as an innovation in the peer-reviewed publication environment and some may not be aware of or accept patient authorship, we know patient-authored publications exist. However, identifying patient-authored publications is often challenging and time-consuming.

Main body: In this commentary, we propose a definition for a patient author and patient-authored publications. We outline factors driving the increase in patient authorship, including patient interest, recognition of the value of including the patient voice and major funders recognising the importance of involving patient advocates in research. Evidence and experience-based guidance on patient authorship is emerging, and we highlight practical guidance for patient advocates on authoring peer-reviewed publications. To gain a better understanding of patient authorship, an efficient method is needed to identify patient-authored publications. A dataset on patient-authored publications could be used for a range of quantitative and qualitative research studies. The affiliation search function in PubMed can provide an easy, and reproducible way to identify a dataset of patient-authored publications in the international peer-reviewed literature, but only if patient authors include a standard metatag, (e.g. Patient Author) as one of their listed affiliations, combined with other affiliations as appropriate. From 2020 to 2021, there was a nine-fold increase in patient-authored publications in PubMed identified using the Patient Author tag. We recognize that terminology can be contentious and some authors may prefer alternative metatags. Further efforts are required to gain consensus on a suitable, standard metatag or set of metatags to use to show the true extent of patient authorship.

Conclusion: Patient authorship is not only legitimate, but it also exemplifies the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion. Stakeholders in the publication community need to review their policies and procedures to identify and address barriers to patient authorship. Patient advocates, funders, researchers and publishers could all help to promote awareness and acceptance of patient authorship and the merits of using a standard metatag or set of metatags, so that patient-authored publications are no longer hidden in plain sight.

Keywords: Authorship; Diversity; Equity and inclusion; Patient and public involvement; Patient author; PubMed; Publications.

Plain language summary

Some patients are leading or helping with medical research to improve understanding of their condition and patient care. To share research findings, patients can author articles published in scientific journals. These articles are reviewed by experts and are known as peer-reviewed publications. Patient authors can provide unique and valuable insights from their experience of living with a condition. Demonstrating that patients can be authors would be easier if there was a quick way to find patient-authored publications. In this article, we describe who a patient author is and what patient-authored publications are. We identify factors that may encourage patients to author research publications. We highlight the practical guidance available to help patient authors and those working with them. To help future research about patient authorship, we need a way to find patient-authored publications. One way is for patients to include a standard search term, such as ‘Patient Author’ in the affiliation section of their publication. Like all authors, patient authors can list more than one affiliation, such as their workplace if they wish. We used the ‘Patient Author’ search term to look at publications in PubMed, a free resource to access scientific publications. We found the number of patient-authored publications using the ‘Patient Author’ tag increased nine times from 2020 and 2021. We encourage patients, funders, researchers and publishers to use a standard metatag or an agreed set of metatags. This could make it easier to find and raise awareness of patient-authored publications.

Publication types

  • Letter