Social media and patient experience

Research from Oxford University on a rise in emergency admissions in children, mostly due to common viral infections, caught the interest of national media; and a media request was made to Mumsnet posters for examples of when this had happened. The response from posters on Mumsnet was a robust defence of the work of general practitioners in the NHS citing a large number of individual case studies of appropriate paediatric referrals to A&E.

Particularly relevant as this month BMJ Quality and Safety has three articles on how social media can be used to evaluate healthcare quality and patient experience. One paper (Greaves et al) describes four sources of social media (rating and feedback websites, Patient networks, discussion fora and blogs, micro-blogs (Twitter) and social networks) with Mumsnet appearing again under the “Patient networks, discussion fora and blogs” heading. Even within the world of social media there is some debate about the value of other sources of patient experience data with the “I Want Great Care” doctor rating website (also listed by Greaves et al) also receiving very robust feedback from Mumsnet.

I think that social media will continue to be used at an individual level by patients to comment on individual episodes of care but the challenge to turn social media ratings of patient experience into measures that are sufficiently rigorous to be used in academic research remains.

One attempt to begin to explore this was from work from our collaborators in Exeter being presented at the South West Society of Academic Primary Care, presenting a Tag cloud analysis of patient feedback but methods are still in development.

Greaves and colleagues themselves highlight many of the limitations of these approaches, considering selection bias and the fact that the measures drawn from social media may not be truly capturing the aspects of patient experience that are important in policy and practice. Social media cannot replace established survey and qualitative methods for measuring patient experience.


Greaves, F., Ramirez-Cano, D., Millett, C., Darzi, A., & Donaldson, L. (2013). Harnessing the cloud of patient experience: using social media to detect poor quality healthcare. BMJ quality & safety, 22(3), 251–255

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  • The Cambridge Centre for Health Services Research (CCHSR) is a thriving collaboration between the University of Cambridge and RAND Europe. We aim to inform health policy and practice by conducting research and evaluation studies of organisation and delivery of healthcare, including safety, effectiveness, efficiency and patient experience.