Towards conceptualizing patients as partners in health systems: a systematic review and descriptive synthesis

Abstract Background With the sharp increase in the involvement of patients (including family and informal caregivers) as active participants, collaborators, advisors and decision-makers in health systems, a new role has emerged: the patient partner. The role of patient partner differs from other forms of patient engagement in its longitudinal and bidirectional nature. This systematic review describes extant work on how patient partners are conceptualized and engaged in health systems. In doing so, it furthers the understanding of the role and activities of patient partners, and best practices for future patient partnership activities. Methods A systematic review was conducted of peer-reviewed literature published in English or French that describes patient partner roles between 2000 and 2021 in any country or sector of the health system. We used a broad search strategy to capture descriptions of longitudinal patient engagement that may not have used words such as “partner” or “advisor”. Results A total of 506 eligible papers were identified, representing patient partnership activities in mostly high-income countries. These studies overwhelmingly described patient partnership in health research. We identified clusters of literature about patient partnership in cancer and mental health. The literature is saturated with single-site descriptive studies of patient partnership on individual projects or initiatives. There is a lack of work synthesizing impacts, facilitating factors and outcomes of patient partnership in healthcare. Conclusions There is not yet a consolidated understanding of the role, activities or impacts of patient partners. Advancement of the literature has been stymied by a lack of consistently used terminology. The literature is ready to move beyond single-site descriptions, and synthesis of existing pockets of high-quality theoretical work will be essential to this evolution.
Health Research Policy and Systems. 2023 Jan 25;21(1):12