Providing care that’s fit-for-purpose requires health providers to understand their patients. One sure way of doing this is by listening to them. This is the ethos at the heart of Healthwatch England’s campaign #ItStartsWithYou. Imelda Redmond, national director of Healthwatch England, discusses the campaign and shares some success stories – providing useful advice for practice managers
Whenever I visit my own doctor’s surgery they make it very clear that they value my feedback. After every appointment I receive a text message asking me about my experience and, when I respond, I get a follow-up asking me why I gave the rating I did.
Now this may be standard in your practice but, from our conversations with people up and down the country, we know that this isn’t always the case. What’s more, people are often unclear about how their feedback is being used.
From a practice management point of view it is becoming increasingly important to not just seek out feedback, but to actively demonstrate how this insight is being used. Indeed, in their recent State of General Practice report, CQC highlighted how use of feedback is one of the key indicators of outstanding quality.
The value of patient feedback
The value of patient feedback is also supported within general practice. As Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, told us, “GPs value the daily feedback they receive from their patients in consultations and comments provided in the surgery. They always want to do the best for their patients and work in partnership with them, welcoming comments from patients about what is working well in the practice as well as good ideas about how services could improve.”
Healthwatch has been helping to showcase the benefits of feedback as part of our #ItStartsWithYou campaign, highlighting how even a single piece of feedback from just one person can help drive significant change in primary care.
We are aware of the barriers to providing feedback. A recent poll we jointly conducted with YouGov found that three out four adults in England are interested in sharing their feedback with GPs. However, despite the desire to provide feedback, out of the 92% of people who had visited a GP in the last year, only 24% actually provided feedback about their experience.
When asked why they did not provide feedback to their GP, 37% said they had not because they did not know how to do so. So, feedback options should be simple, clear and private. It is worth noting, too, that, of those polled who had provided feedback, just 16% said they had received a response from the GP surgery thanking them for their feedback and stating whether or not changes would be made.
Feedback in action
For example, Maria Cook from Crawley in West Sussex had years of stressful visits to the doctor with her son, Ryan, who is autistic. Working with Healthwatch West Sussex, Pound Hill Medical Group and fellow Trustees from Autism Support Crawley, Maria created a five-step plan focused on how to make visits to the doctor easier for children and adults with complex needs.
One of the key problems is that waiting rooms can be so busy they cause sensory overload. Now, when a patient’s date of birth is entered at the reception, a flag comes up on their notes which gives the receptionist bespoke details about the child, including that they have autism and may not like to be touched, or not to make eye contact.
Children can even wait in the car until doctors are ready for them. Staff will come and get them when it’s time. Children may be also given double appointments at quieter times; waiting times are kept down, while volunteers have been delivering autism awareness sessions to practice staff.
Whilst Maria’s comments helped kick-off the work, the programme itself was devised after consulting with more than 100 other families. Seven GP practices are already using the plan to make positive changes to the way they work. The scheme has been such a success it may be rolled out nationwide.
As the independent champion for people who use health and social care services, Healthwatch works to get the best out of health and social care services – whether that’s improving them today or helping to shape them for tomorrow. We are all about local voices being able to influence the delivery and design of their services – not just people for who use them, but for anyone who might need them in the future.
Our work with Patient Participation Groups (PPGs) at GP surgeries includes support to individual groups and the development of PPGs. They are essential in helping GP practices provide care that is responsive to patients’ needs and complement Healthwatch’s role, which has a wider focus on engagement with the community in a local authority area.
Carers and feedback-gatherers
Healthwatch has been out helping surgeries to improve the way they gather feedback across the country. In Norfolk, for example, Healthwatch has teamed up with Thorpewood Medical Group to launch an initiative to give local people more of a say through the use of touch screen kiosks. The kiosks have been placed within surgeries across the group to enable patients to leave real-time feedback about their experiences at the surgery at the click of a button.
By supplementing traditional paper surveys with interactive technology, the aim is to encourage more patients of all ages to share their views about what it is like to be a patient at the surgery.
All feedback from the kiosks is published anonymously on their websites, alongside general feedback about other health and care services, as part of their online Feedback Centre. The practices use the feedback to monitor the quality of their services as perceived by patients, taking action to resolve problems where possible and sharing positive comments to motivate members of staff.
Last year our network of 152 Healthwatch visited more than 3,500 GP surgeries, hospitals and care homes, and gathered the views of 385,000 people to create an unrivalled source of qualitative intelligence about their experience of local services. We can provide a good overview of what sort of improvements people generally want to see and we can also help services work out how to make it easier to gather feedback directly.
Importantly, we know the appetite for our insight is growing within the NHS, with two thirds of Healthwatch representatives reporting that healthcare providers are now actively seeking out information from them about how patients are experiencing care.
As primary care becomes ever more person-centred, there has never been a better time to ensure that the public have the opportunity and means to share their experiences of health and care. So why not speak to your local Healthwatch and see how you could work together to find out what your patients really think about the service you provide and help to improve the care you offer?