Advancing patient engagement in health service organizations

Paula Rowland

Award: Phoenix Project Fellowship (2013), Thematic grant (2016)

Co-Sponsor: University Health Network

  • Assessment and evaluation
  • Patient engagement
  • Patient/family/caregiver voices

Paula used her initial AMS grant to pay particular attention to the relationships between individuals and health organizations. She collaborated with the University Health Network (UHN) and together they took a deep and thoughtful look at how physicians and staff think and talk about patient engagement. While it’s understood that working with patients and patient advisors can result in a more compassionate health system, patient engagement is still very complex. Paula used her skills as a researcher to have critical discussions around the concept of “patients as partners”. In her research, she asked several questions: 

  • What do we mean by “patient”?
  • Where do we find patients and how do we invite them to engage with us? 
  • What kinds of questions should we ask them? 
  • What should we ask patients to do in moments of engagement?

Paula found that the answers were enormously complex, but they had the ability to fuel important conversations with practitioners, patients, and policy makers. Those are the people whose decisions make patient engagement possible. 

In 2016, Paula took the project further with an AMS thematic grant. There was now an even stronger international movement to engage patients and their family members in designing and evaluating health services. Paula believed that showing the meaningful impact of patient engagement was key to sustaining these programs. If patient engagement was to live up to its potential, designers and participants needed a more nuanced and empirically sound way of understanding how these programs work in organizations. This time, her project had different objectives: 

  • Developing an understanding of evaluations related to patient engagement in service design, including evaluation designs, tools, practices, and conclusions
  • Richly describing how patient engagement processes and practices manifest in two different organizational contexts, including describing what is working, for whom, in what context, and to what effect
  • Designing an organization-specific evaluation strategy adapted to the two study sites, informed by existing evaluation models and recent advances in evaluation science
  • Creating and sustaining a broader community of practice around patient engagement in organizations (including the implications for research, education, and practice)

Paula’s work makes an important contribution to the research and practice of patient engagement.

Hear Paula Rowland talk about her work