Where Do I Find Patient Partners?

by: Eva Vat, Training and Capacity Lead, NL SUPPORT.

I am often asked by health researchers where they can find patients to involve in their research. I’ve pulled together 5 tips based on my experience and our recent study.

1. Think about the perspectives you need

Researchers ask me regularly how many patient partners they need. My best advice is to start with identifying the skills and experiences you need. For example, do you need someone with experience of a particular health condition or from a specific community? Consider:

  • age,
  • gender,
  • socioeconomic status,
  • culture,
  • sexual orientation,
  • religion

Thinking about all perspectives at an early stage helps focus the rest of the recruitment process. Involve more than one person; you’ll have the opportunity to get different views.

2. Develop a role description

Getting a close match between the individual and the tasks is really important. What is it what you want the person to do? A role description will help you and the patient. Make sure that you cover the basics such as:

  • What your project is about
  • How patients can help
  • How much time will be required
  • Whether the patient will have to travel or can work from home
  • What kind of experience is required or what support/training you can offer
  • What kind of reimbursement of costs or appreciation you can offer
  • Contact information

INVOLVE has published some examples of role descriptions, terms of reference for groups or committees and adverts which you might find helpful. The key is to keep it short and simple!

3. Use a recruitment method based on your target group

The methods you use for making contact with one group of people might not be appropriate for another. We’ve found a diverse range of recruitment strategies:

  • social marketing,
  • community outreach
  • health system recruitment
  • and partnering recruitment.

Health system recruitment seems to be effective for finding patients with a particular condition or experience, while community outreach seems to be more helpful to reach specific communities such as minority or cultural groups. Social marketing tends to be successful for large groups to recruit those who are able to self-identify themselves as potential partners (often retirees, females). Partnering with marketing companies can be successful to randomly recruit the wider public. Parrtnering with advocacy groups or charitable organizations can be successful to reach specific perspectives on issues patients in that group tend to face.

4. Invest time and resources into recruitment and selection

It can take 3–6 weeks to find your patient partners. You might need budget for staff resources, advertising costs, etc. Think about creating recruitment materials in multiple languages or literacy levels. Make sure that you follow up with those who expressed interest. For example, invite them for an informal interview of telephone chat to investigate whether or not the opportunity is a good fit. You might find this ‘interview’ template helpful. Organize an orientation meeting and/or welcome package to help individuals get started. Recognize that different people will have different needs.

5. You don’t need to start from scratch

Tap into the networks that are available. Are there any networks or directories that could help you to access your target group? In some provinces, a network of patient advisors already exists. Reach out to the SUPPORT Unit in your province to tap into the knowledge, experience and connections they have.

Did you find this information helpful? What are your experiences with recruitment? Share them with us!

Questions or tips? Email us at eva.vat@med.mun.ca or 709 865 6654.