Rea Mattocks has spent her whole working life in health and social care, up to director level. She is now retired and lives in London.
In 2005, Rea developed a rare, auto-immune eye disease, birdshot uveitis. As an ophthalmology patient, her experiences drove her to set up the Birdshot Uveitis Society. Unfortunately, since 2017, Rea has also been diagnosed with three separate cancers.
Rea was part of the advisory group of patients, doctors and employers who helped us to review our requirements for patient feedback for revalidation. We’re now consulting on a number of proposed changes which aim to make it easier for patients to give their doctor feedback about the care they’ve received.
Here, Rea explains why she thinks it’s important for patients to share their experiences.
What is your experience of being a patient?
Unfortunately, for me, I have an excellent understanding of what it’s like to be a patient under many different doctors’ care – my treatment for my eye disease and cancers has been across six separate hospitals and I have been a constant visitor to my GP practice.
What is your understanding about the importance of patients giving feedback to their doctors?
Patients are a hugely underused resource of knowledge and assessment for doctors. Our experiences are not only important for our own treatment, but for those being treated around us, and those coming after us.
For doctors, a good understanding of how they impact patients and how they are being perceived will not only help them grow professionally, but should also lead to better patient outcomes. I believe that the patient perspective is possibly the most important one for a doctor to consider. After all, what would a doctor be without any patients?
What is your experience of giving feedback to your doctor, did you find it straightforward?
Despite my lengthy time in hospitals and as a patient in primary care, I have never once been asked to give formal feedback about my doctor.
I am, however, proactive. And I take every opportunity to give ‘unsolicited’ feedback. I do this either by talking to doctors or sending cards, letters and emails.
I have found that doctors are (mostly) truly grateful for me taking the time to give them feedback, even the not so good, as it helps them towards better outcomes. Like everybody, they need to know when they have done well and what they could do better – this is what motivates all of us who care about the work we do.
How much do you know about how your feedback is used?
Because of my illness, my previous and current work, and the campaigning I do, I understand how patient feedback is used. I know about the process of revalidation and that doctors need patient feedback to not only improve the quality of care that they give, but also to help demonstrate they are up to date and fit to practise.
However, many patients are not aware of the requirements for doctors to reflect on patient feedback. It is important that they understand why they are key to the continual improvement of a doctor’s practice.
Patients need to become involved in a meaningful way, rather than seeing their feedback as yet another tick box survey or being scared to get involved because they think that if they say anything negative, this may impact their treatment.
What role can patients play in helping doctors create user-friendly and accessible feedback tools?
Of course, patients are very aware of the pressures and demands already on doctors and would not want to encourage a system of feedback that would lead to extra burdens on them.
But, I think it also needs to be recognised that patients have their own stress and pressure. Dealing with illness in an overburdened healthcare system, while trying to ensure that your treatment is on track can be very challenging. So, any feedback tools do have to be user-friendly and accessible for both parties.
How can patients be encouraged to give their doctors feedback that is as helpful as possible?
Firstly, patients need reassurance that their care will not be affected if they give honest feedback, and anonymity does need to be guaranteed for many.
Patients also need a better understanding of why it’s important that they give feedback. And I believe that the best people to inform patients are other patients. We are such a huge resource for every healthcare setting and we want to make it better for us and all other patients.
Do you like the idea of being actively involved in developing a doctor’s practice so that it benefits other patients?
Absolutely. We should be partners in this. If my feedback can do anything to prevent another patient from feeling powerless and lost on their health journey then that would be a great start.
Our experiences, knowledge and insight into our care can be very powerful and could really help shape a doctor’s practice. We, as patients, often know the best and most effective way to gather information and feedback. Ask the patient!
Is there anything you think doctors and patients should be aware of?
If I could contribute just one thing based on all my experiences, it is that it’s very important for doctors to stop seeing people as patients and start seeing them as people. In my experience, a patient’s health outcomes are not just based on a clinician’s clinical skills but also on how that patient is cared for by that doctor. Confidence and trust in your doctor is vital when you are grappling with illness in a system that can be very overwhelming.
Never underestimate the power of a patient to ensure the best possible outcome if they feel empowered by their interactions with their clinicians.
To find out more about the patient feedback consultation and take part visit www.gmc-uk.org/feedbackyourway.