Navigating Patient Engagement: Applying a Unique Approach to Engaging Underrepresented Communities in Medical Research

By Kim Cantor -

Without the voices and buy-in from different communities, our morning commutes would be even more chaotic. What lessons can health care leaders learn from this?

It is the morning rush hour in Washington D.C., and traffic is at a standstill. As I sit there on my morning commute, I consider my daily to-do list and how I will handle it. This morning while thinking about how the HCM Strategists team is working to tackle the hard engagement work for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) All of Us Research Program, I realize navigating through this morning traffic is a lot like what we are trying to accomplish.

Every day, we wake up and head to work. People take different commutes– whether by choice or necessity. There are many ways to commute, and our society provides pathways in the form of roads, sidewalks and crosswalks, bikes lanes, rail lines, and bus stops. Tools have also been created to support those pathways – bikes, buses, cars, trains, sneakers, scooters, and boats. In the end, we are all just trying to make it to work despite taking different paths and using different tools to get there.

These pathways and tools are not developed by accident — instead, it is through engagement and understanding of what different stakeholders want and need that helps develop improved pathways and tools. It is working together with input from people across different perspectives that we all arrive at our destination in a way that works for us. This is what effective engagement looks like, and it works. It is evident in our lives every day in so many ways. Without the voice and buy-in from different communities, there would be chaos and people would be forced onto a path they did not choose.

During my time at HCM, I have had the honor to work in concert with communities across the U.S. that have been historically underrepresented in biomedical research. We provide a foundation, a safe space, for learning and understanding the needs of different communities. Together, we craft strategies outlining different pathways and tools for how different communities can talk about the value of research and precision medicine.

I am proud of the engagement work our team conducts on behalf of All of Us. We are respectful of communities and work to incorporate their voice into the design of the program and create pathways and tools that meet people where they are in learning about the program.

Deciding how to commute to work is not necessarily a hard choice, but considering participation in biomedical research can be. It is our responsibility to make sure that people from all communities are heard, their ideas and feedback are incorporated, and that we ensure we are creating all the right pathways and supporting tools to help people understand their choices. And then in the end, if you listen to people, and provide the right foundation, pathways, and tools meeting people where they are, then I am confident we can increase participation in research that will ultimately benefit our society as a whole.


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