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Why is online patient feedback important in healthcare?

Patient experience is an integral element of healthcare quality. High-profile investigations into poor care have shown that healthcare organisations could do much more to recognise and respond to feedback from patients, families and carers.

To assess the quality of patient experience, we need systems that capture it in convenient and timely ways, and we need the resulting data to be acted on. Both positive and negative feedback can be useful for improvement. Traditional forms of feedback are not always timely which can limit their usefulness. Meanwhile, more and more people are turning to the internet to share their health experiences. Could this be the answer for healthcare?

Online feedback in industry

In industries from retail to travel and hospitality, capturing and responding to online feedback has become routine and crucial for success. In 2015, the UK Competition and Markets Authority estimated that online reviews influenced £23 billion worth of public spending. The constant opportunity to post and receive responses on feedback in these sectors can be thought of as a ‘disruptive innovation’ that drives change.

But despite its success in other industries, the use of online feedback for health service improvement is not universally harnessed in healthcare. The internet remains a largely untapped hub of patients’ experiences, and online feedback is often unseen and ignored by some healthcare providers.

A new approach for health?

Many healthcare providers are increasingly trying to use digital technologies to deliver safer, more effective and efficient care. NHS England has stated its commitment to using online feedback to help create a digital NHS founded on participation, transparency and transaction – a vision that places the patient at the heart of healthcare.

But there is no agreement on how to use online feedback to improve healthcare quality, and little known about the content of the feedback or the people who write it. Nor do we know why some people choose to provide feedback, why others choose to read it, and what influence this has on their health choices and the services they use.

There is also poor understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of online feedback. We need to address this so that healthcare providers know how to interpret it alongside other patient experience data, and when and how to act on it.

Used well, online feedback  supports a responsive, patient-centred health service that reacts to the needs of its users. Once we know about how to gather and interpret it, online feedback can become a major driver of quality improvement for healthcare.

A valuable health service tool

With health systems under increasing pressure to save money and improve quality, the internet can be a valuable health service tool. In striving for a patient-centred culture, it is vital that healthcare providers listen, understand and respond to the things that are important to patients. And, as with other industries, the detail of these things can increasingly be identified through online content.

This resource is designed to give healthcare staff the information they need to start using online feedback to improve healthcare delivery.