UK Hospital room with empty beds

Improving healthcare experiences with HCAT

Recent research from PBS

How many of us have encountered a negative experience in a healthcare setting and wondered if our complaint will ever result in meaningful change?

The central innovation of HCAT is the ability to accurately measure the severity of complaints which will help hospitals and policy makers identify key areas of concern.

The NHS receives over one hundred thousand complaints each year from service users dissatisfied with the care they have received. This number presents a huge, yet untapped, resource. For example, what if insight and improvements could be extracted from those complaints and used to reshape our healthcare experience? Dr. Tom Reader and Dr. Alex Gillespie of the LSE’s Department for Psychological and Behavioural Science have created the Healthcare Complaints Analysis Tool (HCAT) to do just that.

To date, the system for storing, coding and analysing complaints in healthcare have been complex and inconsistent. One of the major challenges has been finding a way to analyse the huge volumes of qualitative information reported through complaints, and use this to initiate change in patient care at a local and national level. Reader and Gillespie took on this challenge with a novel approach, and argued that complaints should be analysed in terms of severity. They recruited three groups of educated lay participants to develop a coding procedure for seven problem categories (quality, safety, environment, institutional processes, listening, communication, and respect and patients rights), stage of care and harm, further refined through a national sample of 125 healthcare complaints. They found that complaints could be effectively conceptualised and reliably coded. From this, the HCAT tool has been developed and is freely available.

HCAT can can be used to identify growing problems (and opportunities for improvement) in clinical safety and quality. It also helps to understand the relational and procedural side of the patient experience, which is often a powerful determinant of patient satisfaction. HCAT could also be used an alternative measure of success in meeting important standards such as hygiene, waiting times and patient satisfaction.

Importantly, this tool brings patients and their families into the decision-making process, and ensures their voices are heard, and learnt from by healthcare institutions.

This news feature is based on the findings from this academic article:

Gillespie, Alex and Reader, Tom W. (2016) The healthcare complaints analysis tool: development and reliability testing of a method for service monitoring and organisational learning. BMJ Quality & Safety, 25 (12). pp. 937-946. ISSN 2044-5415.