GPs face online ratings system

The Department of Health wants healthcare providers to set up an online feedback system so that patients can review and complain about them, as on hotel rating sites

Doctors' surgeries should set up online tools for patients to provide feedback about their services, according to the Department of Health.

Department of Health

The Department of Health has proposed that GPs and hospitals should set up ways for patients to provide feedback online. Photo credit: Lesteph on Flickr

All healthcare providers should set up these tools so that people can rate them in the same way that travellers review and post complaints about hotels online, Christine Connelly, the government's chief information officer for health, told a Westminster eForum meeting on Tuesday.

"It's about allowing patients to have a voice," Connelly said at the London seminar on health records, NHS IT and patient choice. "It's to start a conversation, not necessarily to have the whole conversation."

In January, the government wrapped up a consultation on patient data, which included a proposal that GPs and hospitals should set up ways for people to access services and talk to the providers online. The proposal is part of the coalition government's 'Big Society' push, which aims to put more control over public-services decisions in citizens' hands.

Connelly suggested that healthcare professionals will be able to gauge their performance based on the patient ratings.

We would expect performance to improve as a direct result of the free flow of information around the system.

– Christine Connelly, chief information officer for health

"Feedback and data is a really important part of improving performance," she said. "We would expect performance to improve as a direct result of the free flow of information around the system."

Doctors at the event foresaw problems with the scheme, noting that such online tools could be manipulated.

"My practice is on the NHS Choices website, and the first comment there is absolutely glowing. I know, because I wrote it," said Paul Cundy, co-chair of the BMA's GP IT committee. "How do you deal with validation? I often look up hotel websites, but I take what's written there with a massive pinch of salt."

Another doctor asked whether the online information mechanism will resemble hotel comparison site TripAdvisor, but Connelly denied this.

"We don't think this is to put down TripAdvisor-type information," said Connelly. "We want patients to use [these tools] to make informed judgements about their care."

Existing online feedback mechanisms include NHS Choices and the non-profit Patient Opinion site.

Health records and private providers

As part of the "free flow of information" advocated by the government, patients should be able to take copies of their health records and distribute them to third parties, the health consultation (PDF) recommended. Following on from this, Connelly gave the eForum audience details of government plans to allow individuals to access their health records.

In the run-up to the general election in 2010, the Conservatives indicated support for the idea of letting external providers such as Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health run a patient records scheme. However, Connelly said on Tuesday that the government wants data to stay within the existing NHS spine, but noted that individuals will be able to take a copy and manage their data using third-party tools.

"The intention is to give the individual the ability to take a copy of the information and share it with who they want to share it with," said Connelly. "We expect the market to provide those tools."

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