10. April 2012 22:52
Patient Opinion was recently approached by a senior staff hospital manager after reading a story about his hospital posted on Patient Opinion. He asked if we could meet to further discuss the purpose and aims of Patient Opinion. This hospital was not a subscriber to Patient Opinion and during the discussion he mentioned that the hospital had their own website for allowing patients to post their complaints, and he saw Patient Opinion as just a middle-man which would not really add-value to their service. In his opinion Patient Opinion was more like a ‘funnel’ for complaints. In reply, I pointed out the importance of independence and anonymity and that some patients may not wish to be identified because they may feel ‘safer’ to offer their opinion with anonymity. Some patients may even perceive that being identified might affect their current or future care adversely, while other patients may not want to interact with the hospital (eg. shyness, busy-ness), but still want their story to ‘be heard’.
Not only do patients want their opinions of how services can be improved to be anonymous, they also want their opinions to be public so that everyone can benefit from their experience of care. The hospital manager I met with disagreed with this statement saying that real improvement can only occur when they know who the patient is, and that if the patient doesn’t wish to be identified then there is only so much they can do. In their view patients who shared stories of their healthcare experience on sites other than their own hospital website, such as Patient Opinion, were being vindictive to the hospital. Such a view seems strange and at odds with the theory behind quality improvement as the importance of listening to the patient’s stories is a foundation of healthcare practice and has been long recognised by the medical profession as an important way to engender empathy, reflection, professionalism, and trust.
What really matters is that patients can offer their honest view of the service, and like patient surveys and other feedback mechanisms, this is best done in the safety of anonymity. To gain a true and rounded view of a hospital one does need to escape from the official line and here is of course the value of independently categorised feedback and opinion. Also important is the opportunity for healthcare organisations to respond to the concerns of patients publically, so that all can see how their organisation is living up to its mission of being patient-centric.
Patient Opinion is not really a middle-man like you might find in other industries such retail. Healthcare is different. Rather, Patient Opinion’s independence provides a vehicle for healthcare organisations to receive honest and constructive feedback from patients, and is a platform for these organisations to demonstrate their public commitment to improving the quality of services.