Online patient feedback may help hospitals in the UK to improve patient safety and reduce mortality rates, suggests a new paper from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), published today in Risk Analysis.
Errors in patient care are a stubbornly frequent cause of patient deaths. The main approach to monitoring and learning from these errors is through staff reports on safety incidents. However, these reports are often incomplete and skewed by hospital culture. The authors suggest that online feedback provided by patients might be an additional and valuable source of data to help address this. This is because, unlike staff-reported incidents, patient-reported incidents are unconstrained, often anonymous, and independent of hospital culture.
The authors used specialised software to analyse key words and language, a technique known as natural language processing, in the study of almost 150,000 online reviews raised by patients of UK hospitals between 2013 and 2019. They found that patient-reported incidents online had good reliability and validity, and, unlike staff-reported incidents, were associated with hospital mortality rates. Patients reporting incidents online had often tried unsuccessfully to raise concerns within the hospital, and going online was a last attempt to address safety problems patients believed had been unnoticed or left unresolved. This suggests that online patient feedback may act as a safety valve, capturing safety issues that have either been overlooked or unresolved through internal channels.
The findings are significant for organisations and regulators because they indicate that stakeholder online feedback can support safety monitoring and learning through identifying incidents not captured or resolved by internal reporting systems.
Professor Alex Gillespie, co-author of the research and a Professor in the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science, said: “Online patient feedback is an unrecognised and underutilised source of serious data about how healthcare can be improved.”
Dr Tom Reader, co-author of the research and an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science, said: “The study shows how online forums can be used by patients and families as a last resort for raising valid safety issues they think hospitals have missed.”