Aim: This paper examines the complex issues of measuring the patient experience and evaluating the quality of health care. It discusses the use of surveys, patient stories and narrative methods of data collection in an attempt to define quality and how it should be measured.
Background: A recent Department of Health (DH) document insists that patients will be at the heart of decision making in the NHS by having greater control in informing strategic commissioning decisions (DH 2010c). The government aims to improve patient experience, enabling patients to rate services according to the quality of care they receive. This will be carried out using information generated by patients.
Review methods: This paper discusses the advantages and disadvantages of using surveys in gathering patient satisfaction data. It considers the value of surveys in measuring quality of care and appraises their usefulness in strengthening patients' collective voice.
Discussion: The paper investigates the use of another source of feedback - it examines the design of qualitative data collection methods as a means of gaining feedback from service users in encouraging providers of health care to be more responsive to their needs. Too often, patients are expected to fit the services, rather than services meeting the patients' needs.
Conclusion: The most effective way of exploring and representing the patient's experience is by using a mixed-method approach. In other words, an integrated approach with the use of surveys and more narrative methods, such as patient stories, will effectively define quality and how it should be measured, ensuring that the focus is always on what matters most to patients.