NHS use of patient experience data is growing but imperfect
A new NIHR report shows that while there is growing interest within the NHS for collecting wide-ranging patient experience data, attempts to do so can be disjointed with patient views often overlooked. The report – “Improving care by using patient feedback” – is a thematic review of nine NIHR-funded research studies on the uses and usefulness of patient experience data in the NHS.
With healthcare increasingly understood as an experience as well as an outcome, and experience feedback seen as a vital element in holding NHS services to account, there are many different reasons for taking and analysing feedback data. Large amounts of patient feedback are currently collected across the NHS, particularly from surveys and the NHS Friends and Family Test. Data is most often used for performance assessment and benchmarking in line with regulatory body requirements, making comparisons with other healthcare providers, or assessing progress over time.
However, the report cautions that less attention is paid to other sources of feedback. Unsolicited feedback, such as that received online or given face-to-face, is often not acted upon, either because it goes unnoticed or there are no systems in place for meaningful evaluation and dissemination. As a result, the report concludes, there are gaps in providers’ capacity to analyse and use what could be rich front-line insight – known as “soft intelligence”.
The research featured in the report – which draws on evidence taken from patients, practitioners, and policy makers in hospitals, general practices and mental health settings – highlights that patients are often motivated to give praise, or to be constructively critical and suggest improvements to help the NHS. But the focus of healthcare providers can often be on complaints and concerns, meaning they unwittingly disregard useful feedback.
These challenges can be overcome, says the report. While the monitoring of performance and compliance needs to conform to measures of reliability and validity, not all patient experience data needs to be numerical and representative – there can still be value in qualitative and unrepresentative intelligence to provide information on specific issues and to highlight ad hoc opportunities for improvement. Further, organisations should learn from positive as well as negative feedback, and collect, collate and analyse feedback in ways that remain recognisable to the people who provide it whilst offering staff actionable findings.
Study author Dr Elaine Maxwell, clinical adviser to the NIHR, said: “Our studies found that more effort has been spent on collecting data, with less attention to how it can be used to improve services. Findings included the need to integrate patient experience data and activity with other quality improvement work in trusts.
“Research also shows the importance of positive feedback and how online and unsolicited responses can be used alongside survey data to make a difference.”