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Another step towards achieving our goal of helping doctors make better decisions
The BMJ is a journal for doctors. Its mission is to to lead the debate on health and to engage, inform, and stimulate doctors, researchers, and other health professionals in ways that will improve outcomes for patients.
In recent years, patients and the public have become increasingly involved in shaping health care.1 2 In the UK, the government is promoting the inclusion of members of the public in strategic decisions about health services and policy at local and national level, and doctors are being encouraged to involve patients in treatment decisions. Most British medical royal colleges have established patient advisory groups and value those groups' contributions to their work. Gradually, also, patients have been taking on more active teaching roles in medical training.3
Recognising this trend, the BMJ established its own patient advisory group in 2002 chaired by Mary Baker, a member of the BMJ's editorial advisory board and president of the European Parkinson's Disease Association. The group's role is to help the BMJ achieve its mission to help doctors make better decisions. It does this by suggesting new content and commenting on the journal's existing content in ways that will educate readers about patients' needs. It began with a core of members mainly from the United Kingdom and from a few specialist areas (including cancer, dermatology, general practice, and medicines management).
Our plan now is to extend the group geographically and across more fields of medicine, to create a virtual group of patient advisers who will join the growing network of BMJ editorial advisers around the world.
Since the patient advisory group was formed patients have contributed editorials, commentaries, personal views, articles, and letters on a range of subjects. Perhaps their most obvious contribution has been through our intermittent series of patient journey articles—17 to date—which aim to help readers understand how a patient feels when confronting a difficult diagnosis, living with a chronic condition, or going through a traumatic medical event.
Doctors can, of course, be patients, too. Indeed, several patient journey articles have been written by clinicians who are themselves patients or carers.4 5 Increasingly, patient journeys have been enhanced by the addition of commentaries from clinicians, which help identify and explain the lessons doctors can learn from them. We are always pleased to consider articles for this series.
Good writing is a hallmark of the BMJ, but people with interesting and worthwhile stories to tell should not be deterred from telling them just because they are not accomplished writers. The patient editor is always prepared to help authors, by advising on a manuscript's potential and helping shape it to match the journal's needs.
All this is just a starting point. We believe patients have far more to contribute to the BMJ than simply their own experiences of illness and treatment. Via the patient advisory group, we look forward to their input on matters as wide ranging as national health policy; the quality and direction of clinical research; healthcare inequalities; conundrums over the length and quality of life and quality of death; doctor-patient communication; the differences between treating disease and treating the patient; the respective values of anecdotal and research evidence; and the changing nature of society and its implications for health care.
The redesign of the online and print versions of the BMJ should facilitate greater patient involvement. We will explore ways of achieving this, always bearing in mind that doctors are our main audience and that the clinical relevance and scientific quality of the journal's content are paramount. We hope that you will welcome the increasing involvement of patients in the BMJ and that whatever specialty you work in, it will help you make better decisions for your patients.
Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
Competing interests: None declared.