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Title: Patients' online descriptions of their experiences as a measure of healthcare quality
Author: Greaves, Felix Edward Clovis
Awarding Body: Imperial College London
Current Institution: Imperial College London
Date of Award: 2013
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Introduction Patients are describing their healthcare experiences online using rating websites. There has been substantial professional opposition to this, but the government in England has promoted the idea as a mechanism to improve healthcare quality. Little is known about the content and effect of healthcare rating and review sites. This thesis aims to look at comments left online and assess whether they might be a useful measure of healthcare quality. Method I used a variety of different approaches to examine patients' comments and ratings about care online. I performed an examination of the comments left on the NHS Choices website, and analysed whether there was a relationship between the comments and traditional patient surveys or other measures of clinical quality. I used discrete choice experiments to look at the value patients place on online care reviews when making decisions about which hospital to go to. I used natural language processing techniques to explore the comments left in free text reviews. I analysed the tweets sent to NHS hospitals in England over a year to see if they contained useful information for understanding care quality. Results The analysis of ratings on NHS Choices demonstrates that reviews left online are largely positive. There are associations between online ratings and both traditional survey methods of patient experience and outcome measures. There is evidence of a selection bias in those who both read and contribute ratings online - with younger age groups and those with higher educational attainment more likely to use them. Discrete choice experiments suggest that people will use online ratings in their decisions about where to seek care, and the effect is similar to that of a recommendation by friends and family. I found that sentiment analysis techniques can be used classify free text comments left online into meaningful information that relates to data in the national patient surveys. However, the analysis of comments on Twitter found that only 11% of tweets were related to care quality. Conclusions Patients rating their care online may have a useful role as a measure of care quality. It has some drawbacks, not least the non-random group of people who leave their comments. However, it provides information that is complementary to current approaches to measuring quality and patient experiences, may be used by patients in their decision-making, and provides timely information for quality improvement. I hypothesise that it is possible to measure a 'cloud of patient experience' from all of the sources where patients describe their care online, including social media, and use this to make inferences about care quality. I find this idea has potential, but there are many technical and practical limitations that need to be overcome before it is useful.
Supervisor: Millett, Christopher Sponsor: Department of Health
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available