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Background and aim The NHS collects a large number of data on patient experience, but there are concerns that it does not use this information to improve care. This study explored whether or not and how front-line staff use patient experience data for service improvement. Methods Phase 1 – secondary analysis of existing national survey data, and a new survey of NHS trust patient experience leads. Phase 2 – case studies in six medical wards using ethnographic observations and interviews. A baseline and a follow-up patient experience survey were conducted on each ward, supplemented by in-depth interviews. Following an initial learning community to discuss approaches to learning from and improving patient experience, teams developed and implemented their own interventions. Emerging findings from the ethnographic research were shared formatively. Phase 3 – dissemination, including an online guide for NHS staff. Key findings Phase 1 – an analysis of staff and inpatient survey results for all 153 acute trusts in England was undertaken, and 57 completed surveys were obtained from patient experience leads. The most commonly cited barrier to using patient experience data was a lack of staff time to examine the data (75%), followed by cost (35%), lack of staff interest/support (21%) and too many data (21%). Trusts were grouped in a matrix of high, medium and low performance across several indices to inform case study selection. Phase 2 – in every site, staff undertook quality improvement projects using a range of data sources. The number and scale of these varied, as did the extent to which they drew directly on patient experience data, and the extent of involvement of patients. Before-and-after surveys of patient experience showed little statistically significant change. Making sense of patient experience ‘data’ Staff were engaged in a process of sense-making from a range of formal and informal sources of intelligence. Survey data remain the most commonly recognised and used form of data. ‘Soft’ intelligence, such as patient stories, informal comments and daily ward experiences of staff, patients and family, also fed into staff’s improvement plans, but they and the wider organisation may not recognise these as ‘data’. Staff may lack confidence in using them for improvement. Staff could not always point to a specific source of patient experience ‘data’ that led to a particular project, and sometimes reported acting on what they felt they already knew needed changing. Staff experience as a route to improving patient experience Some sites focused on staff motivation and experience on the assumption that this would improve patient experience through indirect cultural and attitudinal change, and by making staff feel empowered and supported. Staff participants identified several potential interlinked mechanisms: (1) motivated staff provide better care, (2) staff who feel taken seriously are more likely to be motivated, (3) involvement in quality improvement is itself motivating and (4) improving patient experience can directly improve staff experience. ‘Team-based capital’ in NHS settings We propose ‘team-based capital’ in NHS settings as a key mechanism between the contexts in our case studies and observed outcomes. ‘Capital’ is the extent to which staff command varied practical, organisational and social resources that enable them to set agendas, drive process and implement change. These include not just material or economic resources, but also status, time, space, relational networks and influence. Teams involving a range of clinical and non-clinical staff from multiple disciplines and levels of seniority could assemble a greater range of capital; progress was generally greater when the team included individuals from the patient experience office. Phase 3 – an online guide for NHS staff was produced in collaboration with The Point of Care Foundation. Limitations This was an ethnographic study of how and why NHS front-line staff do or do not use patient experience data for quality improvement. It was not designed to demonstrate whether particular types of patient experience data or quality improvement approaches are more effective than others. Future research Developing and testing interventions focused specifically on staff but with patient experience as the outcome, with a health economics component. Studies focusing on the effect of team composition and diversity on the impact and scope of patient-centred quality improvement. Research into using unstructured feedback and soft intelligence. Funding The National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research programme.

Original publication




Journal article


Health Services and Delivery Research


National Institute for Health and Care Research

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