Spotlight on Engagement: Gretchen Schwarze

Communication Between Older Patients and Surgeons

Lead Researcher: Margaret “Gretchen” Schwarze, MD, MPP; Department of Surgery, UW-Madison

Engagement Coordinators: Jennifer Tucholka and Anne Buffington; Department of Surgery, UW-Madison

What is the focus of your research?

Our research focuses on improving communication between older patients and their surgeons so that patients can make decisions that align with their values, preferences, and goals. Currently we’re conducting a PCORI-funded, multi-site study to test the effectiveness of a surgical question prompt list (QPL) – a brochure with 11 suggested questions that patients can ask a surgeon during conversations about treatment. We aim to close the gap between what surgeons know and what patients understand by empowering patients and family members to ask questions about how surgery can affect “people like me.”

How has stakeholder engagement helped your project so far?

Stakeholder engagement has been instrumental to our research. We meet regularly with a Patient and Family Advisory Council (PFAC) comprised of patients and family members who have experience with high-risk surgery. Members of this group share their stories and provide vital input on our work.  Our PFAC members were directly involved in developing and refining our question list intervention that we are piloting in our PCORI study. PFAC members also helped us select which outcome measures to focus on and have reviewed and edited key study documents, such as consent forms.

What is a lesson you’ve learned from your stakeholder engagement work?

We have learned to be upfront about what parts of the study the research team can and cannot change. In addition, we work to be as clear as possible about what we are looking for when seeking feedback or input – this is helpful for both researchers and stakeholders!

Services provided by WINRS to the research team:

  • Two CARDS meetings to review QPL intervention
  • Tailored strategies to recruit and train the Patient and Family Advisory Councils (Madison, WI; Boston, MA; Newark, NJ; San Francisco, CA; and Portland, OR)
  • Development and delivery of a targeted orientation program for the PFAC
  • Coaching for PFAC facilitators to support effective meetings and sustained engagement
  • Evaluation of PFAC processes and outcomes