How patient-centred is your feedback? If you collect feedback from patients, but you never share it with staff, you’re probably doing it wrong

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

There is a growing body of evidence that patients’ experiences with healthcare are a reliable measure of its quality. A systematic review recently showed clear evidence of the association between patient experience, clinical safety and effectiveness, and health outcomes. 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.

It is encouraging to see Australia now getting serious about gathering consumer views of their healthcare experience, and using this data to help drive improvement across health services. The National Safety and Quality Health Standards have as a fundamental standard “Partnering with Consumers”. These standards are set by the Australian Commission for Safety and Quality in Health Care.

However, with the advent of social media, health services are now under greater public scrutiny than in the past. Social media is having an impact on the ways citizens are engaging with each other and with public services. This is outside anyone’s control and obviously bigger than health policy. So engagement tools need to evolve to match the citizen.

Whilst the power of the patient voice is increasing, 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 problem 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. A public online form of engagement can be a scary prospect for health services but pales in comparison to the angst a vulnerable patient might feel when addressing issues on a personal level with them.

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. 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 independent, public online 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.

To make this work, Australia will require champions that have as their motto ‘your story helps us do our job better’. What will grab the attention of staff is when patient engagement is a positive, learning experience for them and not just an exercise undertaken by managers responsible for gathering patient feedback to meet national requirements. So this is more about patients becoming ‘energy sources’ and not just ‘data sources’.

This article was written by Patient Opinion Australia CEO Michael Greco for the August 2016 edition of The Health Advocate. To access this and previous editions, click here.