Carolyn Thomas: My experience of patient peer review

carolyn_thomasI’ve finally hit the “Submit” button on my patient review of a research paper submitted to The BMJ—and in time for its deadline. Hurray!

This is the first project of this type I’ve ever been involved in, and at first blush I wondered if I would have anything at all meaningful to contribute—as a non-scientist who wouldn’t know a Hosmer-Lemeshow test from my left elbow at the best of times.

Once I started reading the paper, the pressure to come up with something profound seemed to grow exponentially, especially given that The BMJ is leading the way among other journals in even considering the inclusion of patient reviewers in this process. I also knew that, unless a patient review is meaningful or useful, why bother? Would my clearly non-professional input be used to explain trashing the entire patient peer review initiative? “We tried patient reviewers, but they just didn’t pan out . . . ”

And then I decided to carefully re-read The BMJ‘s patient reviewer guidelines. The first question of the guidelines is:

“Is this an issue that matters to you, other patients, and carers?”

I was suddenly able to take a nice deep breath and remind myself that The BMJ already has real scientists and healthcare professionals to offer peer review input, so I needn’t lose sleep over methodology minutiae. This first question reminded me as well that the particular focus of the paper I was reviewing did matter to me. In fact, I’d already written—from a patient’s perspective—about the very same issues surrounding controversial cardiovascular risk calculators that were discussed in the paper up for review.

This experience has turned out to be far less stressful than I’d first anticipated, thanks entirely to the helpful patient reviewer guidelines. I appreciate The BMJ‘s brave and generous offer to grant patients the opportunity to participate in what matters to us.

Carolyn Thomas is a heart attack survivor, women’s health activist, and blogger at Heart Sisters.

Competing interests: I declare that I have read and understood BMJ policy on declaration of interests and I have no relevant interests to declare.

Read Carolyn Thomas’s previous blog: Why physicians must stop saying: “we are all patients”