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Patient Opinion: making a difference

Update from Care Opinion Australia

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The following article is reproduced from Kate's column in the Institute of Healthcare Management and can be read here 

Feedback from patients can - and should - be used to change and improve care, says Kate Ebbutt of Patient Opinion

When people first see Patient Opinion, many think “Tripadvisor for the NHS”. Not just because rating and review sites are so common online, but also because many countries have pursued healthcare policies over the last 25 years that have tried to turn patients into shoppers. But Patient Opinion isn’t simply a ratings site. It is not about choosing healthcare, it’s about changing healthcare.

In our experience, when people share their stories on Patient Opinion, they aren’t thinking “My story will be helpful to people wondering which hospital to pick for their broken leg, or their lung cancer, or their child’s panic attacks.” Instead, the patients and carers who share their stories are often talking to the staff who cared for them. They are often wanting to say, simply, thank you. And sometimes to say: “Here’s what you could have done better.”

In short, people aren’t rating or reviewing, they are communicating. They want to be heard, to be acknowledged, and to make a difference. And ideally, they want to see the difference they made.

Patient Opinion isn’t about data – it’s about a person, and their story. In the words of one patient: “As someone who is proud that we have an NHS and likes to defend it, I am always hesitant to criticise. Patient Opinion is done in a way that doesn’t feel like making an official complaint but still with an expectation of outcome.”

When we set out on the Patient Opinion journey in 2005, the idea that patients might wish to – or even “be allowed to” – share their experiences of healthcare online was seen as problematic, at best, and often as an invasion of hospitals.

Yet fast forward ten years, and online “patient stories” are pretty much mainstream. “Don’t send us any more data”, patient experience managers cry. “We’re drowning in it.”

Well, that may be so. But Patient Opinion is different. First, this isn’t data, it is people, sharing. And second, those people want to know what’s being done with what they share. Is it making any difference? Did my feedback help someone?

Online patient feedback may be mainstream, but it is clear that, even ten years later, not all health services are willing and able to take that feedback and use it to improve care. But some people, in some places, certainly are.

Every day on Patient Opinion we see some health care staff, in some places, responding in ways that make us open our eyes wide in admiration. Their responses are personal, empathetic, practical and constructive. And in some organisations, staff tell us that Patient Opinion is having a real impact on both services and culture.

Lisa Metcalf, a specialist podiatrist at Nottingham Healthcare NHS Trust, recently blogged about the impact of feedback from her patients: “Our patients are happier, we have less complaints, and we’ve found that by listening to our patients, we do have the power to make our service better.”

This is a different kind of relationship with patients and their feedback, but it is one that staff are often keen to embrace. Key to changing the culture of an organisation in this way is to lead by example, as some senior staff are already doing. We often hear from front line staff who want to do more, they just need senior staff who are keen too. With your lead, staff can embrace public conversations with patients about their care.

Because, it turns out that staff and patients want similar things from feedback:

Patients want to be able to give honest feedback, know they’ve been heard by the right staff, see their concerns taken seriously, and feel they’ve helped.

Staff want to hear honest feedback, show they’ve listened and show they’ve taken concerns seriously, and feel they’ve helped.

The health services that get the most from working with Patient Opinion empower their staff to respond personally. Consultants, nurses and clinical leads all responding personally to patients, saying thank you, or talking about changes they have made.

With your support, your patients will feel empowered, your staff will embrace public feedback, and your organisation will see patient feedback as a conversation that helps everyone.

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