The aim of this study is to understand how National Health Service (NHS) organisations in England can make best use of the immediacy, transparency and early warning capacities of online feedback that can be used in combination with other local qualitative and quantitative information on patients’ experiences.

Organisations often struggle to reach a decent response rate to questionnaire surveys on patient experience. However, there has been a huge increase in feedback and comment in online settings such as review and ratings sites which solicit such feedback, as well as unsolicited feedback in more general settings such as online social media, forums, and blogs. The challenge for NHS organisations is to know how to interpret these types of ‘feedback’ in relation to other sources of data on patient experience, and how to act on these combined resources to improve services.

This study has four objectives:

Objective 1: to identify the current practice, state of the art, and future challenges for online patient feedback, and to determine the implications for the NHS.

We will review existing literature and undertake an extensive consultation with experts and national and local stakeholders (patients, practitioners, commissioners, policymakers) and engage them in implementing our findings.

Objective 2: to understand what online feedback from patients represents and who is excluded, with what consequences.

We will undertake a questionnaire survey of the public, and qualitative interviews with patients and carers, to investigate why and how people choose to (or do not) provide online feedback on health services, how they expect their feedback to be used by the NHS and other patients and to identify who are the users and non-users of internet content.

Objective 3: to understand the potential barriers and facilitators to the use of online patient feedback by NHS staff and organisations and the organisational capacity required to combine, interpret and act upon patient experience data.

We will use questionnaires, focus groups, and in-depth case studies to assess the knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of NHS staff and organisations towards the different sources of patient experience data (online feedback, locally collected quantitative and qualitative data).

Objective 4: to develop a toolkit and training resources for NHS organisations (providers and commissioners)
We will use study findings to develop the toolkit and training resources to encourage appropriate use of online feedback (social media and ratings sites) in combination with other patients’ experience data.

To address the 4 objectives, the programme comprises 5 inter-linked projects:

1. A stakeholder/expert consultation and scoping literature review which aims to find out what is known about online feedback from patients.

2. A face-to-face household survey of the general public to find out who gives online feedback and who uses it.

3. Interviews with patients and carers to explore the motivations and actions of people who choose to create or use online feedback.

4. Surveys and focus groups with healthcare professionals to understand practice, attitudes and use of online feedback.

5. In-depth case studies with 4 NHS Trusts to gain a deeper understanding of how and why online patient feedback is currently viewed and used (or not) by NHS staff and NHS organisations and commissioners.

Please find further information on the study here.