Patient decision aids aim to present evidence relevant to a health decision in understandable ways to support patients through the process of making evidence-informed, values-congruent health decisions. It is recommended that, when developing these tools, teams involve people who may ultimately use them. However, there is little empirical evidence about how best to undertake this involvement, particularly for specific populations of users such as vulnerable populations.
To describe and compare the development practices of research teams that did and did not specifically involve members of vulnerable populations in the development of patient decision aids, we conducted a secondary analysis of data from a systematic review about the development processes of patient decision aids. Then, to further explain our quantitative results, we conducted semi-structured telephone interviews with 10 teams: 6 that had specifically involved members of vulnerable populations and 4 that had not. Two independent analysts thematically coded transcribed interviews.
Out of a total of 187 decision aid development projects, 30 (16%) specifically involved members of vulnerable populations. The specific involvement of members of vulnerable populations in the development process was associated with conducting informal needs assessment activities (73% vs. 40%, OR 2.96, 95% CI 1.18-7.99, P = .02) and recruiting participants through community-based organizations (40% vs. 11%, OR 3.48, 95% CI 1.23-9.83, P = .02). In interviews, all developers highlighted the importance, value and challenges of involving potential users. Interviews with developers whose projects had involved members of vulnerable populations suggested that informal needs assessment activities served to center the decision aid around users' needs, to better avoid stigma, and to ensure that the topic truly matters to the community. Partnering with community-based organizations may facilitate relationships of trust and may also provide a non-threatening and accessible location for research activities.
There are a small number of key differences in the development processes for patient decision aids in which members of vulnerable populations were or were not specifically involved. Some of these practices may require additional time or resources. To address health inequities, researchers, communities and funders may need to increase awareness of these approaches and plan accordingly.