Background: Physicians encounter various symptom-based complaints each day. While physicians strive to support patients with chronic illnesses, evidence indicates that patients who are actively involved in their health care have better health outcomes and sometimes lowers costs. Aim: This article is to analyze how patient engagement is described when complex interventions such as Tai Chi were delivered in Randomized Controlled clinical Trials (RCTs). It reviews the dynamic patient-physician relationship in chronic illness management and to illustrate the patient engagement process, using Tai Chi as an example intervention. Methods: RCTs are considered the gold standard in clinical research. This study is a qualitative analysis of RCTs using Tai Chi as an intervention. A systematic literature search was performed to identify quality randomized controlled clinical trials that investigated the effects of Tai Chi. Selected clinical trials were classified according to research design, intervention style, patient engagement, and outcomes. Patient engagement was classified based on levels of patient participation, compliance, and self management. The chronic health conditions included in this paper are Parkinson’s disease, polyneuropathy, hypertension, stroke, chronic insomnia, chronic heart failure, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, central obesity, depression, deconditioning in the elderly, or being pre-clinically disabled. Results and conclusion: We found that patient engagement, as a concept, was not well defined in literature. It covers a wide range of related terms, such as patient involvement, participation, shared decision making, patient activation, adherence, compliance, and self-management. Tai Chi, as a very complex practice system, is to balance all aspects of a patient’s life; however, the level of patient engagement is difficult to describe using conventional clinical trial design. To accurately illustrate the effect of a complex intervention, novel research design must explore ways to measure patient engagement in the intervention in order to clarify its specific role on health.
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