Tokenism in patient engagement

David L. Hahn, Amanda E. Hoffmann, Maret Felzien, Joseph W. LeMaster, Jinping Xu, Lyle J. Fagnan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


Background. Patient engagement throughout research is a way to generate more relevant patientimportant research questions, methods and results with the ultimate aim of facilitating translation of research into practice. Tokenism is defined as the practice of making perfunctory or symbolic efforts to engage communities or patients. Objective. We wanted to explore how tokenism might influence engaging patients in research to help researchers work towards more genuine engagement. Methods. The Community Clinician Advisory Group and Patient and Clinician Engagement program held a workshop at the 2015 North American Primary Care Research Group meeting titled 'How Do We Move beyond Tokenism in Patient Engagement?' Patients, clinicians and academic researchers contributed examples of genuine and token engagement characteristics based on personal experience and knowledge. Data were iteratively collated and categorized into domains and items. Results. Examples of genuine and token engagement were categorized into three domains: Methods/Structure of engagement, Intent and Relationship building. Members with experience in patient-engaged research projects felt that longitudinal engagement was a key element to effectively translating research into local community and practice. Conclusions. The group (i) highly valued genuine intent and relationship building as elements to combat tokenism; (ii) noted that early genuine attempts at engagement may superficially resemble tokenism as researchers build enduring and trusting relationships with patient/community partners and (iii) emphasized the importance of seeking and utilizing patient experiences throughout research. These observations may contribute to more formal methods to help researchers (and reviewers) evaluate where engagement processes sit along the 'genuine-token' continuum.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)290-295
Number of pages6
JournalFamily Practice
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017


  • Culture and disease/cross-cultural issues
  • Doctor-patient relationship
  • Faculty development
  • Health literacy
  • Primary care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Family Practice


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