University of Oxford Green Templeton College HEXI Home Page Department of Primary Care Health Sciences

April 2016

Mr Douglas Findlay & Dr Anne-Marie Boylan

It’s common practice for consumers to review purchases and experiences online on sites like TripAdvisor and Amazon. So, it’s unsurprising that some patients are turning to the internet to rate and review their healthcare experiences and the staff who provide them on websites like PatientOpinion, NHS Choices and iWantGreatCare.

But unlike the travel and retail industries, we don’t know who leaves reviews and why. We’re not entirely sure what the majority of the reviews are about. It’s unclear if or how they are used by healthcare providers, or how staff feel about the possibility of being ‘named and shamed’ or praised online.

To that end, we are reviewing available literature and consulting experts to better understand the phenomenon of online reviews of healthcare. We’re considering a range of questions. What do we already know about the landscape of online patient feedback? What methods have been used to conduct research in this area? What can we say about people who provide feedback?

Already we’re finding that online reviews are somewhat controversial. There are questions over the appropriateness and usefulness of implanting a feedback model popular in travel and retail into the health service. Health professionals may not readily recognise their value and organisations may face challenges making use of the information. Reviews may only contain polarised views of the NHS written by patients (or their families) who have had really positive or really negative experiences.

Currently, reviewing healthcare online is not a ubiquitous practice, but it is happening and the NHS and the research community can either dismiss it as an unhelpful fad or explore whether or not patient reviews can be used to improve healthcare.

We are some way off replicating the lengthy reviews products and experiences receive on Amazon and TripAdvisor. Short of offering a two for one offer on A&E visits or frequent flyer points for attending GP consultations, we’re not yet sure what recommendations to make to increase the popularity of reviews.

Ultimately, we need to determine the purpose of online reviews and their use within the NHS. Do they help patients make a choice about the place or person providing their care, or are they best used as a means of monitoring quality in the NHS?

We’ll report back with our results later in the year.

Douglas Findlay is the Chair of the Patient, Public and Carer Reference Group for the INQUIRE project.

Anne-Marie Boylan is a Research Fellow with the NIHR Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care Oxford at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.

The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

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