Case Study: Expanding and supporting the patient partner community in research

As previously published on the IMHA blog here

By: Laurie Proulx, Nadine Lalonde, Anna Samson, Linda Roy, Julie McKenna

CIHR-IMHA thanks our guest authors for sharing their time and experience in writing this pertinent case study.

The lived experiences of patients are part of the fabric of the Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance (CAPA). CAPA has over a decade of involvement as patient partners in research, and is a grassroots, patient driven and managed organization. The board is made up of people with arthritis who set the strategic direction and manage day to day operations. Many in CAPA’s community, including founder Ann Qualman who lived with Rheumatoid Arthritis, were instrumental in creating the Canadian Arthritis Network. This research network made patient partnership central to its mandate and operations over a decade before the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research was established.

CAPA’s board recently identified a need to broaden and diversify the community of patient partners that contribute to health research. Board members receive many requests to be part of research teams, know they can’t represent all patient perspectives in research, and are unable to keep up with the demand.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis (CIHR-IMHA) provided support for CAPA’s efforts to expand and support the community of patient partners in research through a new training and mentoring program. This new program provided skill development and mentorship from experienced patient partners, giving new patient partners a solid foundation of knowledge about the health research process and lots of opportunities to become engaged in research. As experienced patient research partners, we know how it can be overwhelming to be added to a research team without some support.

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New patient partners ready to join research teams

To launch this new training and mentoring program, CAPA hosted an open call shared on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and newsletters for people with lived experience of arthritis who may wish to get involved in health research projects and teams. With great response, six individuals were invited to be part of this new cohort of patient research partners. This free online program, co-developed by CIHR-IMHA and patient partners, introduces patient engagement in research, the research process, successful partnership and being part of a research team. This provided a formal training program, complemented by an on-line community where new resources are posted, opportunities for involvement are shared, and peer support is provided.

To date, members of the new group have completed grant peer review for the Arthritis Health Professions Association and have been matched to research projects with established researchers and trainees about COVID-19 vaccine immunity, sexual and reproductive health, and osteoarthritis.

The experience has been positive for the patient research partners. Anna Samson recently shared on social media “The biggest thing I learned from this is that my lived experience is importantBut this affirmed for me that not only is my lived experience with chronic pain valid but it could also be beneficial to others.”

You can learn more about the new members ‘graduating’ from this program on the CAPA  website. The patient research partners have a variety of lived experiences, expertise, and interests to offer to research teams. You can get in touch with them by emailing our organization. This new group is eager, motivated, and ready to be matched to new and ongoing research projects, CIHR grant proposals, and other health research activities like peer review. Looking ahead with our larger community of patient partners, we hope to make patient engagement meaningful for researchers and patient partners.