A review of patient and carer participation and the use of qualitative research in the development of core outcome sets

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To be meaningful, a core outcome set (COS) should be relevant to all stakeholders including patients and carers. This review aimed to explore the methods by which patients and carers have been included as participants in COS development exercises and, in particular, the use and reporting of qualitative methods.


In August 2015, a search of the Core Outcomes Measures in Effectiveness Trials (COMET) database was undertaken to identify papers involving patients and carers in COS development. Data were extracted to identify the data collection methods used in COS development, the number of health professionals, patients and carers participating in these, and the reported details of qualitative research undertaken.


Fifty-nine papers reporting patient and carer participation were included in the review, ten of which reported using qualitative methods. Although patients and carers participated in outcome elicitation for inclusion in COS processes, health professionals tended to dominate the prioritisation exercises. Of the ten qualitative papers, only three were reported as a clear pre-designed part of a COS process. Qualitative data were collected using interviews, focus groups or a combination of these. None of the qualitative papers reported an underpinning methodological framework and details regarding data saturation, reflexivity and resource use associated with data collection were often poorly reported. Five papers reported difficulty in achieving a diverse sample of participants and two reported that a large and varied range of outcomes were often identified by participants making subsequent rating and ranking difficult.


Consideration of the best way to include patients and carers throughout the COS development process is needed. Additionally, further work is required to assess the potential role of qualitative methods in COS, to explore the knowledge produced by different qualitative data collection methods, and to evaluate the time and resources required to incorporate qualitative methods into COS development.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0172937
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2017


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