If you collect feedback from patients, but you never share it with staff, you're probably doing it wrong

Update from Patient Opinion Australia

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There is a growing body of evidence that patients’ experiences with healthcare are a reliable measure of its quality (1).  A systematic review recently showed clear evidence of the association between patient experience, clinical safety and effectiveness, and health outcomes (2). The challenge for health professionals and organisations is to gather patient feedback that is meaningful and useful in driving quality improvements in a timely manner and to share that widely with staff and the community.

What this means is that stories about patient experience should not just be the mandate of management responsible for capturing such data and demonstrating that they have met national safety and quality standards. Rather, such stories should be at the fingertips of all staff so that they can learn what it is that they do well, and what they may need to improve upon. Having access to those stories in near real-time, and learning from them, fosters a culture of patient-centred care.

The Patient Opinion platform (www.patientopinion.org.au) makes it safe, easy and effective for the Australian public to give their feedback to the health services they rely on in near real-time. With the advent of social media, health services are now under greater public scrutiny than in the past. The power of the patient voice is increasing, but its ability to be heard is stifled by the plethora of communication channels and the improbability of health service providers being able to follow and respond to all of them.  This can be addressed by having a platform that allows transparency, including an opportunity for health services to publicly address concerns in an open forum that demonstrates that they are listening and value feedback (good or bad).  In doing so, it encourages those services to become more open, transparent, responsive and patient-centred.  When the health service truly engages with their patients in a non-adversarial environment, patients have tangible evidence that they are being listened to. This public online form of engagement can be a scary prospect for the health service but pales in comparison to the angst a vulnerable patient might feel when addressing issues on a personal level with the health service. 

Our experience at Patient Opinion shows that often patients do not want to complain about their healthcare experience, but would rather offer a comment anonymously, whether good, bad or indifferent. Such comments have been shown to be linked to actual hospital performance (3).  Furthermore, early findings from the University of Birmingham and The Tavistock Institute, involving over 1200 people who had used the Patient Opinion website, shows that patients are less likely to lodge a formal complaint if they received an appropriate response from their health service provider. 

Although some may question whether Australian health services will participate with public online and independent platforms, patients are already posting their comments online.  What health services are encouraged to do is to become part of the conversation rather than simply be the topic of the conversation. In this way, we will work towards meaningful consumer engagement.

(1) Matthew P. Manary MSE,  Boulding W et al. The patient experience and health outcomes. N Engl J Med 2013; 368:201-203. Available at: nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1211775.

(2) Doyle C, Lennox L, Bell D. A systematic review of evidence on the links between patient experience and clinical safety and effectiveness. BMJ Open 2013; 3:e001570;doi:10.1136. Available at: bmjopen.bmj.com/content/3/1/e001570

(3) Greaves F,. Pape UJ, King D et al.  Association between web-based patient ratings and objective measures of hospital quality. Arch Intern Med 2012; 172: 5. Available at: archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1108770.

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