Understanding how front-line staff use patient experience data for service improvement: an exploratory case study evaluation

Louise Locock* (Corresponding Author), Chris Graham, Jenny King, Stephen Parkin, Alison Chisholm, Catherine Montgomery, Elizabeth Gibbons, Esther Ainley, Jennifer Bostock, Melanie Gager, Neil Churchill, Sue Dopson, Trish Greenhalgh, Angela Martin, John Powell, Steve Sizmur, Sue Ziebland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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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.

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.

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.

The National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research programme.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-204
Number of pages204
JournalHealth Services and Delivery Research
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020

Bibliographical note

The National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research programme.

This report
The research reported in this issue of the journal was funded by the HS&DR programme or one of its preceding programmes as project number 14/156/06. The contractual start date was in November 2015. The final report began editorial review in May 2018 and was accepted for publication in November 2018. The authors have been wholly responsible for all data collection, analysis and interpretation, and for writing up their work. The HS&DR editors and production house have tried to ensure the accuracy of the authors’ report and would like to thank the reviewers for their constructive comments on the final report document. However, they do not accept liability for damages or losses arising
from material published in this report.


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