by Assoc. Professor Michael Greco, Chief Executive, Patient Opinion Australia
Patient Opinion Australia (and its sister organisation Care Opinion Australia) is a not-for-profit organisation that exists to help the health and social care system become more kind by providing a platform to enable open and transparent dialogue between patients and health service providers. Through its websites (www.patientopinion.org.au, and www.careopinion.org.au) the public can publish their experiences of local health services. Partner organisations are email alerted to the story and are able to reply online in near real-time. The website allows health service staff to interact easily and safely with patients and consumers to help improve care.
Patient Opinion was founded in the UK in 2005 and has since grown to be the UK's leading independent non-profit feedback platform for health services. Patient Opinion Australia was established in 2012 and, similar to its UK counterpart, is registered as an independent not-for-profit institution. In the UK, 800-plus organisations have registered with Patient Opinion. Currently, there are 50-plus partner organisations in Australia, however, this figure is expected to increase substantially in the near future.
Patient Opinion is about fostering honest and meaningful conversations between patients and health services in a safe, but public, online environment. It is not a review and rating site (like TripAdvisor), but rather its aim is to promote constructive dialogue that will lead to a better service. It is about helping busy staff engage with the patient voice, to hear about what they do well and what could be improved. It’s based on the belief that patient stories can help make our health services better, provided those stories are ‘being heard’, and not just gathered.
Healthcare organisations are now getting serious about gathering consumer views about their healthcare experience, and using this data to help drive improvement across health services. This is good news for the public and for healthcare providers because evidence shows that when we involve consumers in their healthcare, their service providers can provide better health outcomes and a more efficient health system. One of the drivers in Australia is the National Safety and Quality Health Standards (of which there are 10). These standards are set by the Australian Commission for Safety and Quality in Health Care. Standard No.2 is about “Partnering with Consumers.”
So how can we best capture consumer or patient views in a way that promotes a better healthcare experience for all Australians? And how can the patient voice act as an ‘energy source’ that motivates staff, rather than just a ‘data source’. Organisations have traditionally used surveys, focus groups, suggestion boxes, complaint systems and more recently various online mechanisms and social media such as Facebook and Twitter. What sets Patient Opinion Australia apart from these platforms?
The key difference comes down to changing social trends. The manner in which citizens are engaging with one another and with public services is changing – the public is less driven by organisation-centric tools such as surveys and user representatives and more engaged with social media’s immediacy, potential anonymity, transparency and succinctness. Hence, engagement tools need to evolve to match the citizen. It’s about preparing organisations to be future-ready, rather than using 20th century systems, no matter how perfectly they seem to suit the current needs of health organisations. This is part of what Patient Opinion Australia offers.
Another key point of difference is that every story on the platform is moderated before it is published, in order that the anonymity of both the story writer and of the healthcare staff is maintained. This sets the platform apart from other social media platforms that are more focused on social conversations rather than driving improvement. It is important that healthcare staff trust that the site won’t name and shame them. In fact, currently 60% of the stories on the site are positive, which reinforces to staff the impact of the good things they are doing to continue to ensure a better patient experience.
There is also emerging evidence that the site can reduce formal complaints. Whilst Patient Opinion is not focused on being a complaints mechanism, evidence from research and conversations with healthcare providers have shown that patients are less likely to lodge a formal complaint if they ‘feel heard and acknowledged’ on the Patient Opinion site.
The key principles that drive Patient Opinion are as follows:
- We care about giving the public a voice (not necessarily a survey) where they can “be heard.” (not just measured)
- We start with what the story teller (eg. patient, carer, service user, friend, staff) wants to say, not only what the health organisation wants to ask them.
- We believe we can change healthcare by connecting people (story tellers and providers), beyond collecting data.
- We do this in a public and transparent way so it benefits everyone.
The public see Patient Opinion as a safe and easy way to tell their story about their healthcare experience. And by writing on Patient Opinion (which is public, transparent and independent), the public can encourage health services to become more responsive and patient-centred.
There are now a number of CEOs in hospitals, primary care, and disability services engaged with Patient Opinion and the newly launched site, ‘Care Opinion Australia’ (for those services more focused on ‘social care’ than ‘healthcare’). One of the CEOs had this to say about the platform:
“We’ve been using Patient Opinion for 18 months now. I hadn’t anticipated that it is one of the biggest levers we’ve got around the culture of our organisation. We learnt how difficult it was to put ourselves in the shoes of the patient. We now have patient experience stories at every Board and Executive meeting. It has changed our focus. We have learnt more from Patient Opinion than any survey we have done”
Lesley Dwyer former Chief Executive, West Moreton Hospital and Health Service
About Michael Greco
Associate Professor Michael Greco is founding Director and Chief Executive of Patient Opinion Australia. He is Director on boards of health organisations including Change Day Australia, Health Leaders Australia and Check-UP Australia. He holds professorial and Senior Research Fellow posts at the School of Medicine, Griffith University, and the Medical School, University of Exeter (UK). Michael’s background is in healthcare, evaluation and clinical pastoral education. He has a PhD in Medical Education and a Bachelor of Theology.