Objective: Emerging literature suggests contextual factors are important components of therapeutic encounters and may substantially influence clinical outcomes of a treatment intervention. At present, a single consensus definition of contextual factors, which is universal across all health-related conditions is lacking. The objective of this study was to create a consensus definition of contextual factors to better refine this concept for clinicians and researchers. Design: The study used a multi-stage virtual Nominal Group Technique (vNGT) to create and rank contextual factor definitions. Nominal group techniques are a form of consensus-based research, and are beneficial for identifying problems, exploring solutions and establishing priorities. Setting: International. Main outcome measures: The initial stages of the vNGT resulted in the creation of 14 independent contextual factor definitions. After a prolonged discussion period, the initial definitions were heavily modified, and 12 final definitions were rank ordered by the vNGT participants from first to last. Participants: The 10 international vNGT participants had a variety of clinical backgrounds and research specializations and were all specialists in contextual factors research. Results: A sixth round was used to identify a final consensus, which reflected the complexity of contextual factors and included three primary domains: (1) an overall definition; (2) qualifiers that serve as examples of the key areas of the definition; and (3) how contextual factors may influence clinical outcomes. Conclusion: Our consensus definition of contextual factors seeks to improve the understanding and communication between clinicians and researchers. These are especially important in recognizing their potential role in moderating and/or mediating clinical outcomes.
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