Patient feedback on review and ratings websites is known only to around one in five doctors and they strongly felt that online feedback is negative, according to a new survey of health professionals.
The new study led by the University of Warwick, published in the Journal of Health Services Research & Policy, demonstrates that health service staff are cautious about using online feedback due to assumptions that it will be overwhelmingly negative, potentially missing opportunities to improve care.
Healthcare services use a number of methods to collect information on patient experiences, including surveys and Patient Participation Groups, and policymakers have pushed for greater use of online feedback in addition to traditional sources.
It found that just 27.7% of doctors and 21% of nurses were aware of feedback online about an episode of care that they had been involved in, while only 20.5% of doctors and 11.1% of nurses were aware of feedback about them as an individual specifically.
Dr Helen Atherton, from Warwick Medical School, said: "We saw a lack of awareness from healthcare professionals of when feedback had been left about the care they delivered, whether as an individual or team. Overall, awareness and use by doctors is low. But we are seeing that doctors are much more negative about online feedback than nurses, and more so with GPs.
"There's a real need that if NHS organisations are collecting this data that they need to be communicating it to frontline staff, because it's pointless for the patients if their message isn't getting through."
The majority of doctors did not encourage patients to leave feedback and only 38% felt that it was useful in improving services. This is despite previous research showing that online feedback tends to be generally positive towards the health service. The survey also highlighted that healthcare staff were more wary of feedback on social media, with 65.4% of doctors feeling that feedback on social media is generally negative.
Dr Atherton adds: "Previous research in this area by our team shows that it tends to be more positive than people think. Healthcare organisations should be putting protocols in place for this feedback and developing plans for what to do with it. If healthcare professionals are aware of it and take control of the process a little more by actively soliciting it then it's more likely to be useful to them. There are positive examples of how commentary left by NHS patients on review sites have led to changes in the health service.
"Professionals were more wary of social media than they were of ratings and review websites so these are probably the easiest ways to source feedback in practice. You know where your patient is going and you can pick up comments and act on them, something that is more difficult with social media."