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Doctors often ignore NHS data on patient experience

Call for national institute of patient experience to be set up

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Doctors and hospitals too often ignore data that has been collected on patient experience, according to an analysis published online today in the BMJ.

Various collections of data including the GP Patient Survey are long-standing useful sources of information on patients’ experience of care but are under used and often overlooked.

Angela Coulter, associate professor at the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Population and colleagues said in their analysis that it was “unethical” to ignore the data that the NHS had been collecting for more than 10 years and it was time for a coordinated approach to use the information to help improve services.

Their views follow recent news of hospital trusts “helping” patients to write favourable reports of their experience of their services and a report by Healthwatch England warning that the complaints system for the NHS in England was too complicated and needed revising.

By April 2015, all NHS patients attending any type of healthcare facility in England will be invited to report back on their experiences.

However, less effort has gone into how to understand and use the data, said the authors, and there was little evidence that the information has led to improvements in the quality of healthcare.

There was an abundance of data collected over more than 10 years through surveys, in-depth interviews, focus groups and Trip Advisor-style websites, they argued, but said: “Clinicians often ignore survey evidence. For example, findings from the nationally organised GP patient survey often engender defensive reactions from the profession or lack of interest and are sometimes mistrusted.

“And after more than 10 years of gathering patient experience data, only a minority of hospital providers have been galvanised into taking effective action.

“It seems that measurement is necessary but that change will not happen without effective leadership improvements.”

Patients who reported good healthcare experiences tended to respond better to treatment and they said that a more coordinated approach was needed “if we are to make better use of people’s reports on their experiences”.

The authors proposed that a national institute of patient (or service user) experience should be created “to draw the data together, determine how to interpret the results, and put them into practice”.

They concluded: “Careful observation, measurement, recording, interpretation, and analysis of patients’ subjective experiences is essential to appreciate what is working well in healthcare, what needs to change, and how to go about making improvements.

“We believe a more concerted attempt is now required to make use of the evidence.”

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