Patient Opinion exists so that people can share the story of their care and have conversations with hospitals and staff that improve services. Our editorial policy aims to publish as many of the stories we are told as we possibly can, however, in a few cases we may need to make some changes. Here are the guidelines we use to make sure that this is done sensitively and with minimum change.
There are four principles, which guide the Patient Opinion editorial policy:
1. Enable a clear, timely, public, constructive conversation about care.
2. Make giving feedback safe and easy for patients, service users and carers.
3. Encourage authentic feedback, based in personal experience.
4. Treat staff legally and fairly.
These principles guide the decisions made by editors. There are guidelines that come from these principles, which help our moderators to decide if and how they should edit a story.
Enable a clear, timely, public, constructive conversation about care
To ensure the conversation is constructive, we will:
- Reject postings which are primarily commercial, obscene or irrelevant.
- Reject postings relating to events which ended over three years ago.
- Reject postings which we suspect may be untruthful
- Remove obscene or offensive language, including racist, sexist, homophobic or other discriminatory material.
- Edit postings to remove words which are capable of defamatory meaning i.e. - imputations which injure the reputation or business of a person or a group of persons or effect how others treat the person or group of persons
- Consider limiting the length of stories, by heavily editing extremely long postings
To ensure the conversation is clear, we will:
- Consider changes to the story title to make it more helpful to other users.
- Replace upper case (CAPITALS) text with mixed case.
- Make minor changes to spelling, punctuation or layout to improve readability.
Make giving feedback safe and easy for patients, service users and carers
To avoid identifying individuals, we will:
- Remove all patient names from postings, even from positive postings.
- Consider removing details which might identify an individual, particularly where we suspect there are small numbers of staff or patients in any one treatment area. This may mean linking the posting to generic rather than specific services, e.g. to a hospital rather than a ward.
- Remove mention of specific dates and times, if they are not relevant to the context of the story.
In regards to point 1, 2 and 3 directly above, we may need to leave some of these details in the story to ensure that the service provider has enough information required to act on feedback, and if possible, enact change.
Where there are postings that are known to be part of a current, formal complaints or legal, police, coronial, AHPRA or other similar procedure we will carefully consider the content of the postings to determine the relevance of publication. To determine the purpose for publication, we may seek further information from the author and / or service.
If we are concerned that the author of a posting may be vulnerable, we will take appropriate action to protect that person. This may include signposting the person to an appropriate agency for support, not publishing the postings or, in the most serious cases, we may contact the appropriate authority.
Encourage authentic feedback, based in personal experience
To avoid generalisation and speculation in postings, we will:
- Make sure that postings directly report the experiences, reactions or suggestions of patients. For example, critical assertions about the whole hospital, e.g. 'The whole hospital was filthy', may be changed to 'those parts of the hospital that I saw were dirty'. In general, comments that are measurable ('it was not clean', 'they were 45 minutes late') are more likely to be published unedited than comments that are harder to measure ( 'the service was appalling', 'the whole place was a disgrace').
- Generally remove suggestions that indicate others should not visit a service, e.g. ‘Nobody should to go Queens Hospital’, as this is a generalisation based on one individual’s experience.
- Remove allegations or speculations about the character or motivations of health care staff or organisations, or alter them to indicate that that is simply what the author believes, since authors do not know what motivates particular staff. For example, ‘the managers were only motivated by money’ to ‘in my opinion, the managers were only motivated by money’.
- Edit to make clear that experiences relate to some staff, not all staff. For example, change ‘all the nurses on Ward 15 were lazy’ to ‘all the nurses who looked after me on ward 15 were lazy’.
- Sometimes remove references to the care of other patients, if the information is irrelevant.
- Sometimes edit direct speech, quoting third parties, to indirect speech. For example, ‘the nurse said “you’re a nightmare and we don’t want to look after you”’ to, ‘the nurse said that I was a nightmare and they didn’t want to look after me’.
Treat staff legally and fairly
To avoid defaming individual staff members, we will:
- Remove all staff names from highly critical comments.
- In positive postings, we will remove all staff surnames. If no first names of staff are given, then refer to the doctor, nurse, team in charge of care and treatment.
- Generally remove the name or identifying information about a third party. For example, “Ward 15 cleaner Tracy said it was a disgrace and they had been told to keep costs to a minimum”. We will remove Tracy’s name.
- Consider removing identifying information where we suspect there are small numbers of staff in any one treatment area, and it may be possible to identify an individual staff member. For example, if there was only one receptionist we may remove some details so that it is not clear that it was a receptionist specifically. However if there was two or more receptionists, the details would remain in as it could have be referring to any of the receptionists, not specifically identifying an individual.