User involvement is appearing increasingly on policy agendas in many countries, with a variety of proposals for facilitating it. The belief is that it will produce better health for individuals and community, as well as demonstrate greater respect for the basic principles of autonomy and democracy.
Our Web-based project aims to increase involvement in health care and health research and is presented in the form of an umbrella protocol for a set of project-specific protocols. We conceptualize the person as a researcher engaged in a continual, living, informal “n-of-1”-type study of the effects of different actions and interventions on their health, including those implying contact with health care services. We see their research as primarily carried out in order to make better decisions for themselves, but they can offer to contribute the results to the wider population. We see the efforts of the "person-as-researcher" as contributing to the total amount of research undertaken in the community, with research not being confined to that undertaken by professional researchers and institutions. This view is fundamentally compatible with both the emancipatory and conventional approaches to increased user involvement, though somewhat more aligned with the former.
Our online decision support tools, delivered directly to the person in the community and openly accessible, are to be seen as research resources. They will take the form of interactive decision aids for a variety of specific health conditions, as well as a generic one that supports all health and health care decisions through its focus on key aspects of decision quality. We present a high-level protocol for the condition-specific studies that will implement our approach, organized within the Populations, Interventions, Comparators, Outcomes, Timings, and Settings (PICOTS) framework.
Our underlying hypothesis concerns the person-as-researcher who is equipped with a prescriptive, transparent, expected value-based opinion—an opinion that combines their criterion importance weights with the Best Estimates Available Now for how well each of the available options performs on each of those outcomes. The hypothesis is that this person-as-researcher is more likely to be able to position themselves as an active participant in a clinical encounter, if they wish, than someone who has engaged with a descriptive decision aid that attempts to work with their existing cognitive processes and stresses the importance of information. The precise way this is hypothesis tested will be setting-specific and condition-specific and will be spelled out in the individual project protocols.
Decision resources that provide fast access to the results of slower thinking can provide the stimulus that many individuals need to take a more involved role in their own health. Our project, advanced simply as one approach to increased user involvement, is designed to make progress in the short term with minimal resources and to do so at the point of decision need, when motivation is highest. Some basic distinctions, such as those between science and non-science, research and practice, community and individual, and lay and professional become somewhat blurred and may need to be rethought in light of this approach.