An independent website that provides patient feedback shows what can be done with free public sector information
Rather like trucks bearing placards asking how well they're being driven, NHS doctors could one day wear badges saying: "How's my healing?" if the concept behind an award-winning consumer feedback website take off. The independent site, patientopinion.org.uk collects patients' experiences of treatment in the NHS and relays feedback to the organisation responsible. It also allows anyone to sound out "patient reviews" of their 10 nearest NHS organisations.
Patient Opinion appears to be an exemplar of innovation based on the free supply of public sector information. The service relies on data taken from the NHS web portal (nhs.uk) about organisations and the services they offer. "We depend absolutely on the quality of that data feed," says Dr Paul Hodgkin, the Sheffield-based GP who set up the site.
Patient Opinion is a non-profit company whose business model is for hospitals and other organisations to receive feedback in real time. So far, seven organisations have signed up. For the moment, the feeds go out by email, though the plan is to move to a "web feed" (RSS or Atom) service. "It's early days. We're approaching 1,000 bits of feedback; what we want is 100,000," says Dr James Munro, director of Informatics and Research.
Munro says the opinions break down into 50% "absolutely positive", 30% "mixed" and that 10-20% have a "serious gripe". "The vast majority of feedback is very considered and thoughtful. Typically, it will say the experience was excellent apart from one thing that spoilt it, which might be being disturbed in the night or a spillage not being cleaned up."
Munro adds: "If you had to pick one issue patients raised, it would be parking."
Patients providing opinions can keep their identities secret; they need provide only their postcode and an email address. Comments are moderated, but Munro says that 97% have been acceptable; comments are rejected if they are about organisations outside England, are libellous or would prejudice a formal complaint. Anyone browsing the site can enter their postcode to see what patients are saying about NHS services in their area.
After piloting in Yorkshire, the site was launched to cover the whole of England in January this year. Last week, Patient Opinion was commended in the New Statesman new media awards.
Reaction from the Department of Health has been "very supportive", Munro says. One attraction is that the site gathers feedback from a wider group of patients than habitual activists. Another is that it is seen to be independent of the NHS.
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