Caring for care: Online feedback in the context of public healthcare services

Soc Sci Med. 2021 Sep:285:114280. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2021.114280. Epub 2021 Jul 29.


People increasingly provide feedback about healthcare services online. These practices have been lauded for enhancing patient power, choice and control, encouraging greater transparency and accountability, and contributing to healthcare service improvement. Online feedback has also been critiqued for being unrepresentative, spreading inaccurate information, undermining care relations, and jeopardising professional autonomy. Through a thematic analysis of 37 qualitative interviews, this paper explores the relationship between online feedback and care improvement as articulated by healthcare service users (patients and family members) who provided feedback across different online platforms and social media in the UK. Online feedback was framed by interviewees as, ideally, a public and, in many cases, anonymous 'conversation' between service users and healthcare providers. These 'conversations' were thought of not merely as having the potential to bring about tangible improvements to healthcare, but as in themselves constituting an improvement in care. Vital to this was the premise that providing feedback was an enactment of care - care for other patients, certainly, but also care for healthcare as such and even for healthcare professionals. Ultimately, feedback was understood as an enactment of care for the National Health Service (NHS), as symbolically encompassing all of the above. Putting these findings in dialogue with STS scholarship on care, we argue that, in this context, the provision of online feedback can be understood as a form of care that is, simultaneously, both directed at healthcare (in the round, including patients, professionals, services, organisations, and, of course, health itself) and part of healthcare. We conceptualise this as 'caring for care'. This conceptualization moves beyond dominant framings of online feedback in terms of 'choice' and 'voice'. It embeds online feedback within pre-existing healthcare systems, relations and moral commitments, foregrounds the mutuality of care relations, and draws attention to the affective labour of feedback practices.

Keywords: Care; Digital technologies; NHS; Online feedback; Qualitative interviews; UK.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Feedback
  • Health Personnel*
  • Humans
  • Qualitative Research
  • State Medicine*