Objective: To describe the meaning of active participation from the patient's perspective. Methods: We used a narrative framework to analyze transcripts generated from 16 qualitative open-ended, semi-structured interviews with primary care patients in Houston, Texas. Results: Patients' illness narratives reflected several themes related to patient participation. These included patients' perspectives of illness (i.e., how central the illness is in the patient's overall life story and how changeable the patient believes their illness to be) and aspects of actions pursued in the context of patients' illness narratives (i.e., the degree of illness-related activity that a patient engages in and the role of partnership with the patient's physician in health decision making and illness management). The relationships among these themes explained a limited number of distinct illness-management strategies pursued by patients. Conclusion: Our findings revealed a level of complexity to patients' healthcare participation that has not been previously described. Patients' illness-management strategies were explained by four thematic story elements in dynamic interplay with unique variations for each individual. Further research is needed to explore how these story elements influence communication between patients and physicians. Practice implications: By understanding the nature of and relationships between the thematic elements in patients' illness narratives, practitioners will be able to better inform their negotiations with patients regarding participation in healthcare.
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