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Engaging patients in primary care practice transformation: theory, evidence and practice


Patient engagement is a fundamental strategy for achieving patient centred care and is receiving increasing attention in primary care reform efforts such as the patient-centred medical home and related care models. Much of the prior published theory and evidence supporting patient engagement has focused on improving engagement in individual care. Much less is understood about engaging patients as partners in practice improvement at the primary care clinic or practice level. We review the historical and policy context for the growing interest in the USA and UK in patient engagement at the primary care practice level, highlight findings from systematic reviews of the research evidence on practice-level patient engagement and discuss practical considerations for implementing patient engagement. We conclude that while there are persuasive ethical and social justice reasons for empowering patient involvement in practice improvement at the clinic level, research conducted to date in primary care provides suggestive but not yet resounding evidence in support of the instrumental triple aim benefit of practice-level patient engagement. We propose a research agenda to better understand the process and outcomes of practice-level patient engagement and its potential advantages to both the practice and the patients and communities served. Better evidence as well as resources to support and incentivize effective and feasible engagement methods are needed to catalyse greater diffusion of practice-level patient engagement in primary care practices.

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