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How to manage online feedback

GPs are the most discussed group on NHS Choices; here are some tips to use patients’ comments to your advantage

GP practices are still profoundly uncomfortable with the existence of ‘TripAdvisor’-style feedback services, such as NHS Choices and iwantgreatcare.org. Anyone searching online for a practice in their area will see reviews on most local listings sites, such as Yell and Qype. Even Google itself offers its own review facility alongside its search results. However, one thing is clear – they are here to stay.

Many GPs have dismissed ‘review’ websites as a platform for whingers, arguing the feedback is not valid because it is not representative of the majority view and only those who have had a terrible experience are motivated enough to comment.

It is fair to say online feedback attracts the extremes at both the positive and negative end. But there is a lot practices can do to minimise the damaging effect of the odd negative comment and make feedback services work for them.

Promote feedback to patients

This can be as simple as mentioning to patients that they can review the practice online or elsewhere or putting up a poster in the waiting room. The more technologically-minded could display feedback on their own website, alongside a link to where people can leave their own, or even use social media services such as Twitter or Facebook to highlight reviews.

Take control

Promoting feedback services gives practices some control over the feedback that is left as they can target people who are regular users of their services and more likely to leave a balanced review.

Use criticism to improve practice

It is also important that practices listen to what is being said and use criticism to help them improve. No organisation gets everything right every time. Even if your patient survey results showed 95% satisfaction that still means roughly one person in every surgery has left the practice feeling unhappy with their experience. And they are the ones most likely to leave an online review.

Practices should be honest with themselves and if issues come up more than once, the chances are it is something they could improve on. The best reviews often come from initially disgruntled patients who are pleased the practice has listened and made the improvements they asked for.

Reply to all feedback

A good reply should deal with any issues raised by the person who left the original comment. People generally have a high opinion of GP practices, so will instinctively distrust online reviews that do not appear fair or balanced.

A good reply from the practice to a review that is bad tempered or not coherent will further detract credibility from that review. If a practice does not feel it can deal with the issues raised, whether because of confidentiality or because no-one can recall the events described, say this honestly and invite the commenter to visit the practice to discuss it. Leave a name and contact number at the end.

In summary, those practices that spend a little time to really engage with feedback, promote these services to patients and use the results to improve, will be the ones who set themselves apart.

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