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Patient feedback and improving healthcare quality

Patients' feedback is important to improving care, but often they are sceptical about the use, study finds. 

Patient feedback is important in improving the quality and outcomes of healthcare. The national GP Patient Survey in primary care aims to support this, but there is uncertainty over how the survey is used by patients and what impact the feedback has on general practice staff. These issues were explored through quantitative survey analyses, group and individual interviews, an exploratory trial and a vignette study.

Patients are often confused where their feedback goes and how it is used. Picture: iStock

A number of findings emerged. The first was that patients readily criticised their care when reviewing consultations on video, but were reluctant to be critical when completing questionnaires. Absolute scores on surveys may therefore present an overoptimistic view of the care received and should be treated with caution. The second finding suggests the low scores for communication given by South Asian respondents reflects care that is worse than that experienced by their white British counterparts.

The third finding was that staff in practices and out of hours services were sceptical about the value of patient surveys and rarely used them for quality improvement. They considered them insufficient and preferred free-text comments as giving more tangible, actionable data.

An exploratory trial of real-time feedback (RTF) through touch screens in waiting rooms found only 2.5% of patients used them, but that staff were broadly positive about using RTF. Surveys are a valuable resource for monitoring national trends in quality of care, but the results need to be made more meaningful and be supplemented with other types of feedback to engage practices. There needs to be further investigation into the factors driving poorer experiences of South Asian patient groups.

Burt J, Campbell J, Abel G et al (2017) Improving patient experience in primary care: a multimethod programme of research on the measurement and improvement of patient experience. NIHR Programme Grants Appl Res. 5, 9.  

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