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Sharpening the focus: Differentiating between focus groups for patient engagement vs. qualitative research

Author: Nicole Doria, Donna Curtis Maillet
Year: 2018
Category: Research Methods

Read the journal article in Research Involvement and Engagement

Patient engagement is an opportunity for people with experience of a health-related issue to contribute to research on that issue. The Canadian Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR) highlights patient engagement as an important part of health research. Patient engagement, however, is a new concept for many researchers and research ethics boards, and it can be difficult to understand the differences between patient engagement activities and research activities. Focus groups are one example of how research and patient engagement activities are often confused.

We distinguish these two types of activities by using different terms for each. We use focus groups to refer to research activities, and discussion groups to refer to patient engagement activities. In focus groups, researchers collect data by speaking with a group of research subjects about their experiences. Researchers use this information to answer research questions and share their findings in academic journals and gatherings. In patient engagement, discussion groups are a way for patients to help plan research projects. Their contributions are not treated as research data, but instead they help make decisions that shape the research process. We have found that using different language to refer to each type of activity has led to improved clarity in research planning and research ethics submissions.