User involvement in a Cochrane systematic review: using structured methods to enhance the clinical relevance, usefulness and usability of a systematic review update.
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Background This paper describes the structured methods used to involve patients, carers and health professionals in an update of a Cochrane systematic review relating to physiotherapy after stroke and explores the perceived impact of involvement. Methods We sought funding and ethical approval for our user involvement. We recruited a stakeholder group comprising stroke survivors, carers, physiotherapists and educators and held three pre-planned meetings during the course of updating a Cochrane systematic review. Within these meetings, we used formal group consensus methods, based on nominal group techniques, to reach consensus decisions on key issues relating to the structure and methods of the review. Results The stakeholder group comprised 13 people, including stroke survivors, carers and physiotherapists with a range of different experience, and either 12 or 13 participated in each meeting. At meeting 1, there was consensus that methods of categorising interventions that were used in the original Cochrane review were no longer appropriate or clinically relevant (11/13 participants disagreed or strongly disagreed with previous categories) and that international trials (which had not fitted into the original method of categorisation) ought to be included within the review (12/12 participants agreed or strongly agreed these should be included). At meeting 2, the group members reached consensus over 27 clearly defined treatment components, which were to be used to categorise interventions within the review (12/12 agreed or strongly agreed), and at meeting 3, they agreed on the key messages emerging from the completed review. All participants strongly agreed that the views of the group impacted on the review update, that the review benefited from the involvement of the stakeholder group, and that they believed other Cochrane reviews would benefit from the involvement of similar stakeholder groups. Conclusions We involved a stakeholder group in the update of a Cochrane systematic review, using clearly described structured methods to reach consensus decisions. The involvement of stakeholders impacted substantially on the review, with the inclusion of international studies, and changes to classification of treatments, comparisons and subgroup comparisons explored within the meta-analysis. We argue that the structured approach which we adopted has implications for other systematic reviews.